(image credit: Lin Pernille Photography)
How important is the first sentence of a novel? There aren’t too many famous opening sentences. Here’s a few that are often mentioned…
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” –Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
“Call me Ishmael.” –Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” –The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” –A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
“It was a dark and stormy night…” –Paul Clifford, Edward Bulwer-Lytton
These lines start out books that are now considered classics. One of them even has an award named after the author (though not many writers are thrilled to win the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for worst opening sentence). So, does a great and memorable opening line help to create a classic — or do classic opening lines simply get remembered more often?
Here are some opening lines that are memorable to me:
“If the room were any smaller, Maggie could have worn it as a dress.” –Found: One Wife by Judith Arnold (an original Harlequin romance, now available directly from the author)
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” –The Gunslinger, Stephen King (whose books will probably never go out of print)
“In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of…the cow jumping over the moon.” –Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown (a classic children’s book, from which I remember not just the opening line, but the ENTIRE BOOK because I read it to my son about 50 times a week when he was little)
Are these books likely to stand the “test of time”? Goodnight Moon probably will, and possibly Stephen King. I don’t know if Judith Arnold will be considered classic literature in 100 years… but she’s certainly memorable to me.
Of course, I wonder if my opening line will be remembered:
“Beneath the glimmering surface of New York City, the night had teeth.” –Broken Angel, S.W. Vaughn
Hm. It’s not terribly literary, or particularly clever. I’d love to have an opening that people can call to mind years later… but mostly, I want the story and the characters to be remembered. So I won’t be too disappointed when, 100 years from now, I don’t have a Wikipedia entry dedicated to that one sentence.
What’s your most memorable opening line from a novel?