Memorable Opening Lines

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Your humble host

And not cheesy pickup lines from drunks at bars, either, although that might be fun.

No, I’m wondering…

What books had GREAT opening lines?

The last camel died at noon.

Call Me Ishmael.

What books have you read that have great opening lines? Why were they memorable? Or did the best books have mediocre opening lines?

Like…

Jaws is one of my fave books ever and its opening line kinda sucks. “The great fish moved silently…” Couldn’t go five words without an adverb. Really, Peter Benchley? Really?

The Godfather starts with “Amerigo Bonasera sat in…” Yawn.

Meanwhile, Killer starts with “Fuck The Godfather” which, based on its lame opening line… yeah.

A Separate Peace begins “I went back to the Devon school…” YAAWWNN!! Classic? Clasically bad. A good book and a great story, but a lame opening.

Whereas Catch-22 has maybe the most memorable opening line ever: “It was love at first sight.”

Love that. LOVE it.

and The Other begins “How old do you think miss DeGroot really is?” Love that, too. And that’s one scary as hell book.

I’m not saying these are the best books ever, or even the best opening lines. Okay, well, I did imply that about Catch-22. But these are classic books and these are their opening lines – and times have obviously changed.

Nobody would start Jaws that way today. Nobody.

TheNavigatorsDanAlatorre
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You want a gripper of an opening, and a first paragraph that makes your reader want to read on. It’s not easy. For example, we recently selected the better opening line for my new novel The Navigators (soon to be released – check out a sample chapter HERE) from these two choices:

A)

“Come on.” Barry jumped up from behind his desk. “An archaeological dig at a mine in central Florida is practically like going to the beach.”

or B)

“No way.” Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. “You fuckers are crazy.”

 Barry jumped up from behind his desk. “Come on. An archaeological dig at a mine in central Florida is practically like going to the beach.”

“B” won, going away!

(I know, I know. You’re not supposed to start a book with dialog. Um, but Tom Sawyer starts that way. So there.)

Whenever you can get input from your readers, DO IT! They are who you’re writing for, after all. This works for book covers and blurbs and opening lines, as we’ll see later this month. You guys will help me make The Navigators the best it can be.

Tell us the opener from a book you loved and let’s see how it held up over time.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great upcoming sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Check out a sample chapter HERE or Click HERE to check out his other works.

25 thoughts on “Memorable Opening Lines

  1. Under classic opening lines…

    I’m going with the opening from Orwell’s 1984

    “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”

    I was 9 years old at the time and the notion of clocks striking beyond twelve was captivatingly odd.
    But my dad found me reading his ‘grown-ups’ book and said it was not for me.

    It’s still a great opening line, straight away all conventions are turned upside down, and a ‘bright cold day in April’ a hint of the forbidding there, after all it’s mid-day and it’s still cold.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a contrarian, so I’m going to share an incredibly aggravating first line from the guy whose aversion to adverbs is almost legendary, a man who has even gone so far as to say, “I can be a good sport about adverbs . . . [w]ith one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions . . . and not even then, if you can avoid it.” So here it is, from Stephen King himself in Firestarter: “Daddy, I’m tired,” the little girl in the red pants and the green blouse said fretfully.” I. CAN’T. EVEN.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land has a simple, but effective start:

    “Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.”

    Right away, you are drawn in to find the answer to the question “How could a Martian possibly have a name like Valentine Michael Smith?” And “Once upon a time…” preps you for something classic and classy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m liking your opener. ‘Fuck’ straight away lol lets me know the story is not going to mess about.

    As for memorable ones, I can’t remember any – at all – so either my memory is bad or there’s never been any that stuck long enough. But a great opener is almost law.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My wound is my geography. It is my anchorage, my port of call.” Pat Conroy, “The Prince of Tides.” This speaks to me of the fact that we are all subject to the place where we are born. This book is my favorite of all times.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The first one that came to my mind was “I dreamt I went to Manderly again. ” Thats from my memory so I hope I didn’t misquote. I read that book (Rebecca) as a teenager and it scared me, but I was scared of a lot of things back then, still am actually.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The sun, having no alternative, shone on the nothing new. OK, it’s Beckett, and we’re used to him now but in 1938 (when he published Murphy), such a sentence in itself was new.
    Re your own opener, I voted A but see the attraction of B. Either way, I realise now something was bugging me. It’s not impossible, I agree, but when Barry says, ‘an archaeological dig at a mine in central Florida’, it sounds a bit like the author informing the reader. Could it be replaced by ‘it’s practically etc..’, then made explicit in the next line, but not as dialogue? Just a suggestion 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sure, it’s all fair game. People have said I introduce too many characters too quickly (5) and that the location of the furniture in the opening scene messed with them. Two have said to start the story at the landslide (but that will make people think it’s an action story and it’s really not).

      And as you know, the biggest dilemma is telling a story with a time machine and not disappointing time travel fans (because it’s a character driven piece) and still getting “story” readers interested when it’s a story involving a time machine.

      Liked by 2 people

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