A few months back, I did a post on the greatest opening lines in literature.
Let’s start with a fun post by Guy Dammann of the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Atop his list of favorite first lines is this one from Samuel Beckett’s Murphy: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on nothing new.”
For another take, check out this guest column in Writers Digest by the mystery author Merry Jones entitled “How to Write a Great Opening Line.” Her top eight include the magical opening of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I was in Manderley again.”
And here’s a Top Ten list on Litreactor by Meredith Borders, along with her explanation of what makes each of her picks work. Her list includes, along with several of the usual suspects (Pride and Prejudice, Lolita, Fahrenheit 451), a few surprises, including this one from Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” That certainly achieves the primary goal of an opening line: it makes you want to keep reading.
And finally, here is Mark Nichol’s “20 Great Opening Lines to Inspire the Start of Your Story.” He categorizes each of his 20 opening lines into one of 20 categories, from “Absurd” to “Unexpected.” For Unexpected, his choice is from Waiting by Ha Jin: “Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.” My favorite, though, is one that Nichol files under the category Expository: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” The source: Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.