The most famous first line of a novel was penned by Victorian Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton. “It was a dark and stormy night” led off his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Maili offers up the four reasons why first lines are important:
Reason 1: it’s usually the fastest way to determine whether I would enjoy the book.
Reason 2: I think an opening line can be helpful as it can quickly set a mood or expectation of what to come.
Reason 3: a good opening line can make me appreciate how well an author manipulates the language.
Reason 4: some can be so outrageous that I can’t help but read on. Most times it will become clear that it’s not what it really is, which makes me appreciate the author’s wit.
Of course, some great books have terrible opening lines and some awful book have truly memorable ones. Once in a while, some authors tried too hard. I think simplicity works best. Here’s a selection of opening lines that got me to buy a copy:
- My mother was the village whore and I loved her very much. Pigs Don’t Fly – Mary Brown
- He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate. Flowers from the Storm – Laura Kinsale
- Penitence Hurd and the plague arrived in London on the same day. The Vizard Mask – Diana Norman
- Kathy Allison Carter was locked in a staredown with a sousaphone. The Golden Touch – Robin James
- On the twelfth of June in the year seventeen sixty seven, I awoke in ditch in Derbyshire and thought I was dying. Playing the Jack – Mary Brown
- He had a pair of queens, but she had cleavage. The Gambler – Lois Geiman
- I fell in love with Darius Wentworth when I was twelve. Come Be My Love – Diana Brown
- Have you ever drunk vodka at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning? Neither had Frankie, but she was about to. Going La La – Alexandra Potter
- "Come out, Mr. Winslow." Archer stepped out from the stairwell onto the dark tenement roof. "It’s your time to die." Night Falls Darkly – Kim Lenox
- I told the insurance company I was sleeping when the house blew up. Madame Mirabou’s School of Love – Barbara Samuel
- Treason… The word was a soft incessant hiss in Raphael Fletcher’s mind. Heart of Deception – Taylor Chase
- Sometimes, when the wind was just right, she could hear the blues. In the Midnight Rain – Ruth Wind (Barbara Samuel)
- Maggie Slade realized three things simultaneously: Cobra was drunk, he was angry, and he was going to rape her. The Daughter – Jasmine Cresswell
- "I should very much like to see your quim." Let Me Be the One – Jo Goodman
- It was well known around Russellville, Alabama, that Tommy Lee Gentry drove like a rebellious seventeen-year-old, drank like a parolee fresh out, and whored like a lumberjack at the first spring thaw. The Hellion – LaVyrle Spencer
- It was hell being a hero. Seize the Fire – Laura Kinsale
- 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. Silent in the Grave – Deanna Raybourne
- "What a beautiful cock!" she murmured under her breath. The Pirate and the Pagan – Virginia Henley
Lack of a good opening line probably won’t make me stop reading the book but it could get me to start and it could get me to continue on. How much do you value opening lines? Would a good opening line influence your decision to read on? Please quote your favourite opening lines if you have any.