WARNING: If unapologetic word geekery alarms you, skip this post. It's okay. I won't tell anyone.
Sometimes, my favorite way to grab inspiration is by bingeing on other people's good work.
Anyone with me? Just devote a day to plunging through an entire novel. Have an afternoon of compulsively watching movie trailers. Or this:
A first line festival.
Sometimes, reading the first sentences of a stack of books--well, it energizes my approach to my own book.
Beginnings. They just grab me.
So here, for our browsing, bingeing pleasure, are 30 first lines.
They aren't especially famous ones--so, don't look for anyone called Ishmael, any happy and unhappy families, any universally acknowledged truths.
But they still make my fingers tingle. And give a boost to the sentence-churnery in my own head.
Use them to stir up your own writing, to help brew a hook for your own project, or just wade through and geek out along with me.
Beware thoughts that come in the night.
- William Least Heat-Moon / Blue Highways
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old.
- Marilynne Robinson / Gilead
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
- C. S. Lewis / The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The year began with lunch.
-Peter Mayle / A Year in Provence
It was one of those wet-hot nights in July when living in New York is like living in a teapot.
- Linda Stewart / Sam the Cat Detective
Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.
- Barbara Kingsolver / The Poisonwood Bible
I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon / The Shadow of the Wind
There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.
- Louis Sachar / Holes
On the late afternoon of Friday, 30 June 1559 a long splinter of wood from a jousting lance pierced the eye and brain of King Henry II of France.
- Leonie Frieda / Catherine de Medici
This book was born as I was hungry.
- Yann Martel / Life of Pi
How do you introduce the untranslatable?
- Ella Frances Sanders / Lost in Translation
The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight.
- Ernest Hemingway / "On the Quai at Smyrna"
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
- Dodie Smith / I Capture the Castle
Like many of us, I think, my father spent the measure of his life piecing together a story he would never understand.
- Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason / The Rule of Four
Underground is where you expect to find revolutionaries.
- Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn / The Oak and the Calf
Oh, anywhere, driver, anywhere--it doesn't matter.
- Dorothy Parker / "Sentiment"
When she sang, it was hard to imagine death was so near.
- Matt Rees / Mozart's Last Aria
This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.
- William Goldman / The Princess Bride
My father had a face that could stop a clock.
- Jasper Fforde / The Eyre Affair
When at last I was taken out of the plaster, and the doctors had pulled me about to their hearts' content, and nurses had wheedled me into cautiously using my limbs, and I had been nauseated by their practically using baby talk to me, Marcus Kent told me I was to go and live in the country.
- Agatha Christie / The Moving Finger
I have had not so good of a week.
- Sara Pennypacker / Clementine
There are devotees of Goethe, of the Eddas, of the late song of the Niebelungen; my fate has been Shakespeare.
- Jorges Luis Borges / "Shakespeare's Memory"
It was Charles who called us the parasites.
- Daphne du Maurier / The Parasites
Taran wanted to make a sword; but Coll, charged with the practical side of his education, decided on horseshoes.
- Lloyd Alexander / The Book of Three
The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles.
- Col. Chris Hadfield / An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
In the beginning was the land.
- Eugen Weber / A Modern History of Europe
When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse.
- E. B. White / Stuart Little
I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.
- C. S. Lewis / Til We Have Faces
It was nine o'clock at night upon the second of August--the most terrible August in the history of the world.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle / "His Last Bow - An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes"
On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life was hopeless, and I would eat myself to death.
- Anne Lamott / Plan B
Yep, more awesome first lines coming in. Good to know I'm not the only one who loves this kind of stuff! Here are a couple more opening lines, from Twitter friends and from the comments:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number Four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
- J. K. Rowling / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The small boys came early to the hanging.
- Ken Follett / The Pillars of the Earth
Which opening is your favorite? And what lovely or chilling or just-right first lines should we add to the list? Let me know in the comments.