Wednesday, August 26, 2015

First Sentences

I recently changed the entire first page of my work-in-progress and that got me thinking of first sentences. The first one that popped into my head was from Pride and Prejudice, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." While I enjoyed Jane Austen's most famous work, part of the reason I thought of this quote was because that line gets a lot of air play. Then I wondered, what were the first sentences of some of my favourite books...

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. – The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. – David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. – The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. – The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches. – Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. – Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rusdie

The day I died started out bad and got worse in a hurry. – Undead and Unwed, MaryJanice Davidson

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – The Gunslinger, Stephen King

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. – Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. – Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age – regardless of how they look on the outside – pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives. - The Gum Thief, Douglas Coupland

My mother thinks I'm dead. - Legend, Marie Lu

All this happened, more of less. - Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Across genres and eras, the first sentence of a novel is important. It can captures a reader's interest or make them roll their eyes in annoyance. I've learned that not all first lines hold mystery, sometimes it takes the first paragraph or first page. I have a lot of respect though, for writers that can take you away, pull you in, grab and never let go, with that first sentence.


  1. Worthy choices. It may just be me, but it seems to me, the MOST famous opening line is from A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times..."

    Another I'd mention is Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

    But my own favorite is from One-Hundred Years of Solitude: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

    1. I only used sentences from books I've actually read and I have read A Tale of Two Cities yet. I also haven't read Anna Karenina or One-Hundred Years of Solitude. Great first sentences all of them and ones that would keep me reading.

      I can see why One-Hundred Years of Solitude is your favourite.