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  • Writer's pictureIan Brooks

The Best Opening Lines in Books

books and butterflies

A great opening line can grab your attention from the very start. It can stir something inside of you and get you interested in the story. Much has been written on the importance of first lines. Writers and authors spend hours scratching their heads, wondering if their very first sentence or paragraph is good enough to engage and excite the reader.

While there is no hard and fast formula for how to write a great first line (how do you make something concrete out of the intangible?), there are ways to better at them. One such way is by studying the best opening lines out there.

See below for a list of some of the greatest and most iconic opening lines in literary history:

“Call me Ishmael.” – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

  • The opening to Moby Dick is cool, punchy and effective. It’s a great opening that immediately introduces the main character.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

  • This line sets the perfect tone for Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece. The reader understands that something isn’t quite right with the line, but isn’t told explicitly what.

“Here is a small fact: You are going to die.” – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  • Talk about starting with a heavy statement. Impactful, dark and probably the absolutely perfect way to start a novel narrated by Death.

"If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle." – The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

  • When it comes to children’s books, there aren’t too many better openings than The Bad Beginning. Yes, it’s longer than other opening lines but it’s impactful, sets the tone for the entire A Series of Unfortunate Events and makes the reader want to read more and more.

"There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." – Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

  • A wonderfully humorous line by C.S. Lewis that makes readers laugh at the ridiculousness of the boy’s name and also wonder what he did to almost deserve the name.

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