#AtoZChallenge: O is for Opening Lines

A-Z Challenge

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

O is for Opening lines

The opening line for your novel must draw your reader in. They should read that first line and think:  I need to read this book. I want to know what happens.

So how do you create a great first line? That’s a difficult thing to try and explain. The best thing to do, as with most things, is to read. And when you read, think about your reaction to that opening line. Do you want to read on? If so, why? And if not, why not? I can do no better, though, than to share these wonderful first lines:

two cities

“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.”

Charles Dickens: A Tale Of Two Cities (1859)

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

 “You better not never tell nobody but God.”

Alice Walker: The Color Purple (1982)

the bell jar

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar (1963)

“It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

Joseph Heller: Catch-22 (1961)

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

Christopher Isherwood: Goodbye To Berlin (1939)

 capture castle

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle (1948)

“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

Albert Camus: The Stranger (1946)

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

J.D Salinger: The Catcher In The Rye (1951)

Got a favourite opening line? Share it by leaving a comment below.



  1. I agree a first line can draw you in right away or put you off. How about this one?
    To hell with common sense and protocol – He’d be damned if he let a woman be assaulted in front of him. (Before The Morning by Zee Monodee)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabulous selection, Alison.
    I love: ‘In order to pay off a debt that someone else had contracted, Austin King had said yes when he knew he ought to have said no, and now he saw the grinning face of trouble everywhere he turned.’
    From William Maxwell’s Time Will Darken It.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how my brothers and I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth telling. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. And worse still is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

    Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes.

    A novel I loved and hated in equal measure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve not read this – it’s one of those books I’ve always thought I should probably read but I’m not sure if I can. That opening line is great though so I think I’ll give it a go.


  4. You’ve taken my greatest delight – the Dodie Smith. I have looked at first lines as an exercise before now, and I have to admit that most of my favourite books don’t have especially grabbing openings. One of my all time best reads is Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine:
    When I was a young boy, if I was sick or in trouble, or had been beaten at school, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father had wanted to kill me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice quote roundup. Reminds me of the other day when my daughter found a single sentence she had written to start something. We never figured out where she had originally planned to go with it. But, we decided it was an awesome writing prompt for something new.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The best opening lines to me will probably always be the first twelve lines of The Divine Comedy, “Midway life’s journey I became aware/That I had strayed into a dark forest,/And the right path appeared not anywhere….”

    I also love the haunting, poignant opening line of Isabella Leitner’s Fragments of Isabella, which came verbatim from the actual first “fragment” she wrote shortly after arriving in America in 1945. “Yesterday, what happened yesterday?”

    Liked by 1 person

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