What are the best first lines in fiction?

This article on the BBC website takes a stance common among journalists and writing gurus…that a memorable first line is crucial to a book’s success.

What are the best first lines in fiction?

I’m not sure that it is. It’s a wonderful thing that readers recall an opening line, for books need all the publicity they deserve. Some of these phrases enter common usage without the source being known.

My objection to overpraising first lines makes me sound grumpy but think about it. Does a film begin with the most memorable scene? Do stand-up comedians tell their funniest joke first? Musicians don’t play their greatest hit to begin a concert. A gymnast doesn’t perform their most difficult manoeuvre at the start of their routine.

Also, it’s a bit insulting to imply that readers will only continue reading if you hook them with the first sentence. None of the five novels I’m currently reading has a dynamite first sentence, though all have intriguing opening paragraphs that make me wonder about the protagonist. I try to do the same thing with my writing.

Perhaps a notable first line is like a mascot on the bonnet of a car. There to catch the eye and create an image, but no guarantee of the performance of a book.

Having said that, I have my favourite first lines, including:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Anna Karenina
 by Leo Tolstoy.

The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

It began as a mistake.
Post Office by Charles Bukowski.

What are your favourite first lines?

Have you written any great ones?

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