The All-Important First Line of a Novel

Genesis: “And God created the heavens and earth.”

Fountain Pen Writing in Journal

Throughout my writing career, the importance of a memorable first line has been greatly stressed. As I closed the book I was reading the other night before bed, I got to thinking about all the novels I’ve read and which ones I still remember that opening first line.

The Bible opens with a first line the entire Christian world knows by heart: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth.” And thus begins the story of humanity, and where we came from. But this is just the beginning of the tale. God created our world, and us, for a purpose. It is up to us to complete our journey with God as graciously and honestly as we can.

For his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Before continuing, you know the character has experienced the best in his life, but has also suffered through personal tragedy. While you, the reader, knows he has survived, you still want to know more. Plus this opening has a duel meaning. At the time, Paris, France, was like two different cities at once: she was at her best, but her downfall was forthcoming.

My favorite first line of a novel is from Dame Daphne du Maurer’s Rebecca. This novel opens with the haunting line: “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” I immediately sense the mood of this thriller, and know the main character has suffered a hurt so profound that even in her sleep, she cannot escape. And I know that her journey from a dark place has only just begun.

For my own humble attempt at an opening line for my forthcoming paranormal romance, Dark Obsession, I chose, “Blood pounded in Mark’s ears as his dark obsession pulled him once again to Bell House.”

Have I done my job as a writer to make you want to know more?

What are some opening lines of novels you remember most?

What makes you remember them so?

2 thoughts on “The All-Important First Line of a Novel

  1. Great blogpost. I have it scheduled to go out to my LI/FB/TW network tomorrow morning. Enjoy your Sunday! 🙂 ~K

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