Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Best Opening Lines in Novels

I thought I'd write a post about the best opening lines in novels. I personally never put too much stock into the first sentence of a manuscript but there are scads of agents, publishers and readers who do.  I used to be somewhat perplexed on how an agent could decipher interest in a novel within the first 500 words. However, when reflecting on some of the classics, I understand completely. That being said I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite opening lines to gauge your thoughts or possible render of few favorites of your own. (Note: These are in no particular order, just the ones that happen to be top of my mind.)

(My review)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.

My comments:  I love, love, love this line - can't get enough of it.  Mr. Utterson rules!

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

My comments:  There's the whole book right there, huh?  No but really...the statement, the tone everything about this book starts right here and I love it.  I'm sorta weird about this book.  I think I have about 6 copies of it maybe more...

P.C. Cast’s Marked “Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse I saw the dead guy standing next to my locker.”

My comments:  This was a cute YA novel, not my favorite but I adored the opening line.  I actually preferred to read more about the dead guy than anything else. 

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

My comments: The best part is the "thank you very much."  The tone is brilliant.  Every time I read this one, it puts a smile on my face.

(My Review)
Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic vermin.”

My comments:  First of all, I loved this book.  It was inventive, hilarious and pathetic all wrapped into one.  Great opening line. 

There are tons more of websites that feature best novel opening lines out there. Feel free to check out a few others here or here. I’m curious to all my readers out there.  Which opening line is your favorite?  Do you put much stock in an opening line?

Mina B.


Jessica Therrien said...

I loved that first line from Marked. Made me laugh :) Haven't read the book though...

S. L. Hennessy said...

These are terrific opening lines. I always loves the one from Pride and Prejudice and Jekyll and Hyde. Awesome post.

REINHARDT! said...

Hi Mina! I adore first lines of books, especially those that are so excessive, so indulgent, that you can't help but laugh. Here's my favorite, from The Riddle of the Traveling Skull, by notorious pulp writer, Harry Stephen Keeler:

"I knew full well, when the Chinaman stopped me in the street that night and coolly asked me for a light for his cigarette, that a light for his cigarette was the last thing in the world he really wanted! I knew, in short, that he was up to something! For Chinamen, even in Chicago, that strange London of the West where most anything can happen, do not stop white men on the street and ask for lights—even though the said Chinamen are garbed in American apparel—as this particular one was when I first had dealings—of a sort—with him."


donna galanti said...

Mina , love this collection - some I have not read or not read in years. Now I must go pull off my shelf. That 1st line from Marked would definitely keep me reading. I just finished my first YA zombie novel and love Jonathan Maberry's first line in Rot & Ruin: Benny Imura couldn't hold a job, so he took to killing.

Cherie Colyer said...

You have some great choices. HP is one of my favorites too. Here's one that I love and have handy to share:

I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck.

This is from Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost. Not only did I have to know what was in the back of the trunk, it does a great job of capturing Cat's voice.

C D Meetens said...

I haven't read "Marked", but thought that was a great opening line. The same with "Dr. Jekyll". It's that ending about "somehow lovable", despite everything else that's been said.

I really like the opening line to "Peter Pan": "All children, except one, grow up.".

Stacy Henrie said...

Great examples - love the one about the dead guy by the locker. That grabs you.

C D Meetens said...

I thought of another great opening line, and it was too good not to add it, so please excuse the second comment:

"The opera ghost really existed." from "The Phantom of the Opera". It just feels like it's going to be a different sort of book. Not just a ghost, but the author is implying it might be a true story :).