Charles Dickens was born on this day in 1812. One of my favourite writers, he has a lot to teach us today (and some of his compassion and philanthropy wouldn’t go amiss either).
I wrote this post about opening lines a few years ago, but Dickens was the master of them, so in celebration of his birthday, here it is again.
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:
“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)
“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)
“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.