Great First Lines of Novels
By Laurie Sanchez
So I was checking out The American Book Review's list of 100 Best First Lines of Novels.
It's an topic that takes up a lot of my thoughts these days, because -- although I have two manuscripts almost complete -- I'm still unhappy with the first lines. And I know I need to get them right.
A great first line can mean everything to a novel. And there certainly are some classics we never forget. Toni Morrison's first line of Beloved always stuck with me:
"124 was spiteful."
I loved that. (Who can't keep reading to the next sentence?)
Another one I always loved was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's first line of 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."
I realize that what I love -- what stands out for me, personally, in a great first line -- is a tiny bit of the absurd, a tiny bit of something that makes you pucker your eyebrows and think, "Whaaaa?"
But it's not just the classics that can do this. There are a lot of modern novels that have great first lines, too. And literary novels don't hold all the power here, either. One of my favorite romance writers is Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and she always has great first lines -- just enough absurdity and humor to make you want to read on immediately. From It Had to Be You:
"Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father's funeral. ..."
And from Natural Born Charmer:
"It wasn't every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard's larger-than-life world. ..."
What about you? What great first lines have you always remembered?
Laurie Sanchez is a writer and editor in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three kids. She is fussing with the first lines of two manuscripts that she hopes to publish in the next hundred years. She also blogs as Mizwrite.