Lines to Love: First Lines Edition
First lines are very important. They’re like first impressions. You only get one chance at them. They are the first words any reader sees when she opens a book. In my experience, there have been a few times when I’ve encountered a stellar first line that absolutely absorbs me from the get go.
Sometimes first lines are famous and used often in our everyday- or maybe that’s just me (you know, like Dickens’ paragraph long first sentence, It was the best of times; it was the worst of time… from A Tale of Two Cities). Others are just familiar (like Austen’s, It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife from Pride and Prejudice). Today, I would like to offer you some of my favorite first lines.
Sometimes first lines are places where the author weaves the setting utilizing various literary devices to transport the reader. These sorts of lines are some of my favorites because oftentimes the words and metaphors are exquisitely eloquent.
“The breeze came up soon after noon, brisk and cool, to dance with the treetops and hurry the fluffy white clouds in their journey across the deep blue serenity of the sky.”
“Pewter reflections of scarlet hibiscus colored the dirt-smudged windows of the old house, like happy memories of youth trapped inside the shell of an old man.”
The House on Tradd Street, Karen White
“The formidable glass-and-steel structure rose from its position on Front Street like a glittering needle threading the sky.”
City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare
“The year that Bibi Blair turned ten, which was twelve years before Death came calling on her, the sky was a grim vault of sorrow nearly every day from January to mid-March, and the angels cried down flood after flood upon Southern California.”
Ashley Bell, Dean Koontz
Then there are times that the first line conveys a profound, but simple truth. What’s not to love about that? These hold a little bit of humor, but then Shakespeare did say, In jest, there is truth.
“A watched phone never rings.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombie, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen
This next one is in keeping with those epically long lines of Dickensian acclaim. I love the reality and relatability of it. I can totally see Martine Rhodes wielding a spray can of insecticide like a flamethrower… in fact, I may wield my own insecticide in just the same sort of way. Come on, we two can’t be the only ones.
“On the Tuesday in January, when her life changed forever, Martine Rhodes woke with a headache, developed a sour stomach after washing down two aspirin with grapefruit juice, guaranteed herself an epic bad-hair day by mistakenly using Dustin’s shampoo instead of her own, broke a fingernail, burnt her toast, discovered ants swarming under the kitchen sink, eradicated the pests by firing a spray can of insecticide as ferociously as Sigourney Weaver wielded a flamethrower in one of those old extraterrestrial bug movies, cleaned up the resultant carnage with paper towels, hummed Bach’s Requim as she solemnly consigned their tiny bodies to the trash can, and took a telephone call from her mother, Sabrina, who still prayed for the collapse of Martie’s marriage three years after the wedding.”
Another long first line that truly sets the stage for one of the characters as well as grounds the readers to the setting is this one:
“Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrums and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed the be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks to children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.”
Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
This introduction always felt a little allegorical to me. The brook seems to symbolize so much more than a stream. The fact that it comes from the wild woods through the Cuthbert’s property before taming itself on the Lynde’s land just speaks a little to the personalities of the people who live there. What do you think?
Finally, here are a few first lines that make the reader ask the questions Why? or How?
“Few people would look kindly on my reasons for marrying Philip; neither love nor money nor his title induced me to accept his proposal.”
And Only to Deceive, Tasha Alexander
“I was raised to marry a monster.”
Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge
“The circus arrives without warning.”
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
I’ll end with perhaps one of my favorite first lines of all time. It’s a bit of a cheat, as it’s really two, but it’s simple too fabulous not to include both sentences to give the full effect.
“To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.”
Now, how about you? What are some of your favorite first lines in literature?