Favorite First Lines

So my writer friend Sharon and I were talking about great first lines of novels. This is a common topic among writers, because we’re always trying to come up with the greatest “hook,” or line, for our books. But she pointed out that every time she researches first lines (or famous first lines, hooks, etc.), it always lists the same ones, over and over. But surely fiction has some new ones! I’ll bet at least one book you read recently had a terrific first line. What are some of your favorites?

Sharon said this would be her submission:

“At this point in the story, Packard had never fallen in love, and didn’t trust what he’d heard of the lingo (forever, my darling, with all my heart, till the end of time, more than life itself, with every fiber of my being, oh my darling Clementine, etc.)  It sounded out of control to him, and messy.”


— “Train” by Pete Dexter


Love it.


I like some of the humorous ones I always remember. Love Susan Elizabeth Phillips:


“Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral.”


— “It Had To Be You,” Susan Elizabeth Phillips






What are some of your favorite first lines?

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21 thoughts on “Favorite First Lines

  1. I love this! I hope you keep this one going. I recently took a workshop where we had to find interesting opening hooks. I poured through a lot of books on my shelves but didn’t find any opening lines that really grabbed me. Until I found this one:

    “I don’t give a damn if it’s a matter of national security or not,” Gabriel Edge savagely told the man he held at sword point. “I am not having sex with that woman.”
    Edge of Danger by Cherry Adair

    Ok, that was 2 sentences, but the entire opening paragraph. Powerful, emotional, and a grabber.

    And I also like Patricia’s contribution above.

  2. So this is what it feels like to be hunted.
    From the book: God’s Middle Finger–Into the lawless heart of the Sierra Madre.
    By Richard Grant

    That drew me right in!

  3. “Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

    The Europeans by Henry James.

    It’s not the sentence itself that stays with me so much as the opening scene of tea on the lawn. Ahh, when time slows down–and those long dusks I miss in SoCal.

  4. I don’t read a lot of fiction these days. I’m a moviephile, but I have always loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. My favorite opening line, as unoriginal as it might be for me to say, is from The Great Gatsby:

    “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

    It draws me in to this day because it is a sign that this man is still trying to reconcile his life and the world around him.

  5. “It was hell being a hero.” From Laura Kinsale’s Seize the Fire.

    That drew me in and I wanted to know why anyone would think that. It was a great line because it turned out to be the protagonist’s theme for the book.

  6. “SAILORS, LEPERS, OPIUM, SPIES – with such a family history, how could we be anyt’ing but sluts?”

    Okay, you just HAVE to keep reading after that! From Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport (A Hawaii themed book)

    David – The Great Gatsby is one my favorite books of all time!

    mizwrite – this is a great exercise!

  7. These are all terrific first lines! (Now I want to read all of these books!) I did know “… I was 14 when I was murdered ..” though. We read “Lovely Bones” for the book club, so I remembered that one. (“Twilight” and “The Book Thief” both used similar starts, now that I think about it — starting from the vantage point of death — so that’s always an effective tactic, I guess.)

    I have another that I thought of yesterday, although it’s a classic and everyone’s probably heard it already:

    “124 was spiteful.”

    — Toni Morrison, Beloved

    At that point, you don’t know what 124 is, and you don’t know how it can be “spiteful,” and it just gets you sucked in right away. … Love Morrison.

  8. Totally agree on Morrison. And Beloved is my favorite! But I read it years ago and I didn’t remember this first line. Now I have to read the book again!

  9. “I, Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Prince of Darkness, Bringer of Light, Ruler of Hell, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies, Apostate Supreme, Tempter of Mankind, Old Serpent, Prince of This World, Seducer, Accuser, Tormentor, Blasphemer, and without doubt Best Fuck in the Seen and Unseen Universe (ask Eve, that minx) have decided—oo-la-la!—to tell all.” From Glen Duncan’s “I, Lucifer.”

  10. Here’s another great one, from the short story, The Tonto Woman, by Elmore Leonard.

    A time would come, within a few years, when Ruben Vega would go to the church in Benson, kneel in the confessional, and say to the priest, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been thirty-seven years since my last confession…Since then I have fornicated with many women, maybe eight hundred. No, not that many, considering my work. Maybe six hundred only.” And the priest would say, “Do you mean bad women or good women?”

    Who could not read on after that introduction?

  11. “One Christmas was so much like another in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six”.
    Dylan Thomas – A Child’s Christmas in Wales

    As a tradition, I read this story every year to myself. A lengthy first line!

  12. “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

    OK, everyone knows that one – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.

    How about this:

    “John Laroche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome, in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth.”

    -Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

    Such detail, all in one smooth sentence! I love it!

  13. Mary Ann P. — We’ve got to get Dylan Thomas on our book club list!

    N.M. — I loooooove Gabriel Garcia Marquez! And that first line was romantic to me even when I was a teenager! I haven’t read “The Orchid Thief,” but it has an engaging start, definitely!

  14. I bought the following 3 books based on the 1st lines:

    “He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate.” Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm.

    “By the time you read this, I hope to be dead.” Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes.

    “I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” Stephenie Meyers Twilight.

  15. “Bring the butcher’s lad to me!”

    From Maiden of Inverness, Arnette Lamb

  16. Hi, Joemmama! Yeah, talk about starting with the “story question,” huh? Just put it right out there! I’ll have to remember that one. …

    Hi, Vicky — Wow, so you even buy your books based on first lines? That’s cool, actually. I love Laura Kinsdale! And yes, I have to give Stephenie Meyers props for that first line, too. I did think that was a very good hook.

    Hey, Nanna95 — So glad you commented! I haven’t read that book, but interesting first line. People feel both ways about starting with a quote, but I always kind of like it. It makes me wonder immediately who said it and why, so I like the mysteriousness of it.

  17. Pingback: The Ever-Important First Five Pages

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