Best Opening Lines in Literature

‘On a dark and stormy night…’ and ‘Once upon a time…’ may be the most recognized opening story lines – but what are your favorites?

harrypotter_firstpage

Here is a growing list of some of our favorite story-starters in literature. We will be adding more from your comments below so don’t be shy!

  1. 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. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  2. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984
  3. Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.- George Orwell, Animal Farm
  4. It was a pleasure to burn. – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  5. Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.- John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
  6. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis
  7. Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  8. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
  9. All children, except one, grow up. – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
  10. It’s hot as hell in Martirio, but the papers on the porch are icy with the news.- DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little.

First Lines Submitted by Figgies

  1. The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed. – Stephen King, The Gunslinger (submitted by Samuel R. Barrera)
  2. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (submitted by Bridget)
  3. Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure. – Albert Camus, The Stranger (submitted by Alec Moyes)
  4. When I was seventeen, my life changed forever. – Nicholas Sparks, A Walk to Remember (submitted by Naomi Medrano)
  5. The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car. – Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian (submitted by @TheDarlingDana)
  6. Marley was dead: to begin with. – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (submitted by Liz Bertsch)
  7. Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (submitted by Monica Ines Solano)

71 thoughts on “Best Opening Lines in Literature

  1. Wow, really? No “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”? For shame!

  2. How about this one from Howl’s Moving Castle?

    “In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.”

  3. Possibly, some people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride; I have a sympathetic chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling – to manifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again. No, I’m running on too fast: I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him.

  4. Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity. -Brandon Sanderson, Elantris
    It was a dark and stormy night. -Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (Believe it or not, that’s where the now-common phrase first appeared back in 1962)

    • “It was a dark and stormy night” actually comes from an 1800s novel called Paul Clifford , and it’s an opening famous for being an extreme example of purple prose.

      There’s even a bad-writing contest named after the author, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.

      http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

      It’s a great quote and great opening to A Wrinkle in Time , one of my favorite books, but I just wanted to clear that up. 🙂

  5. My two favorite opening lines:

    “There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”–C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    “Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner from our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, well known in his own day (and still remembered among us) because of his dark and tragic death, which happened thirteen years ago and which I shall speak of in its proper place.”–Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

    • You, good sir, must’ve been reading my brain! ALL THE YES TO BOTH OF THESE!

      I’m reading The Brothers Karamasov right now, and the whole book is just as amazing as its first line.

  6. “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the highest point of the live-long year, like the seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in it’s turning.” -Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

  7. “The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in it’s turning.” -Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

  8. What about 100 years of solitude? “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, colonel aureliano buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Or the classic moby dick; “they call me Ishmael”

  9. 1. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” -Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
    2. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” -L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
    3. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” -William Gibson, Neuromancer

  10. I felt her fear before I hear her screams.- Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy

    The circus arrives without warning.-Erin Morgentern, The Night Circus

    I have just returned from a visit to my landlord-the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with.-Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

    such a shame to leave Wuthering Heights.

  11. From my favorite book The Tale of Despereaux by Katie DiCamillo: “This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse.”

    And another of my favorites, Eager by Helen Fox: “EGR3 stood in the small dark room and watched the sea.”

  12. “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” -Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

  13. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

    “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road

    “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

  14. The day that ended with everything different in the life of Raimund Gregorius began like countless other days. -Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

  15. “Here’s everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either is. Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and a lot of kings named Louis.” – Anna and the French Kiss

  16. “I used to be someone. Someone named Jenna Fox. That’s what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch. More. But I’m not sure what.” -Mary E. Pearson, The Adoration of Jenna Fox

  17. “The Sky was the color of cat vomit.” no need to include it, it’s the first line to Scoot Westerfeld’s Uglies. I just find it an entertaining first line and it’s one that I always remember.

  18. “I am a sick man… I am a wicked man.” – Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Pevear and Volokhonsky translation)

    “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous vermin.” The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (Stanley Corngold translation)

    “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” – The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

    “Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.” – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanne Clark

  19. “Captain First Rank Marko Ramius of the Soviet Navy was dressed for the Arctic conditions normal to the Northern Fleet submarine base at Polyarnyy.” – The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy

  20. ‘So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.’–Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (there’s a prologue before this, so it’s not technically the FIRST line, but it’s the first line in the first chapter. The actual first line is ‘I am not a good person.’)

  21. ‘Congratulations. The fact you’re reading this means you’ve taken one giant step closer to surviving till you’re next birthday’ Maximum Ride, The Angel Experiment by James Patterson.

  22. ‘The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.’ – The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

  23. “Halt, foul dragon!”
    Billy was stared at the tall stranger a ghostly figure draped in dark chain mail. He looked like a night of some kind. Like a toy box figure come to life. -Raising Dragons by Bryan Davis.

    We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.- The Red Pyramid by Rick Riodran.

    It was my aunt who decided to give me to a dragon. -Dragon slippers By Jessica Day George.

  24. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

  25. “A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over:
    “Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”
    He could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence.” The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  26. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
    ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’” The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

  27. “There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.” Stardust, Neil Gaiman
    “There are so many ways it could have all turned out differently.” The Probability Of Love At First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith
    “I am a beast.” Beastly, Alex Finn

  28. The Book Thief
    (Die Buchen Dieben

    * [First lines] *Here is a small fact: You are going to die.* I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please trust me. I most definitely “can” be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

  29. Of course I have secrets.
    ~Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

    “It’s your own choosing,” said the man with the withered arm once more.
    ~The Red Room by H. G. Wells

    The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to
    speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.
    ~The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

  30. Also…

    It was dark where she crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.
    ~The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

  31. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

    The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking.

    The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

  32. I used to hate the fact that my world is built on half-truths, held together with white lies.
    ~Rachel Vincent, ‘With All My Soul’

  33. My favorite has always been “There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

    From Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis.

  34. “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”

    The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.

    ((I’m not entirely certain if the line is correct, I’m pulling it off of the top of my head)).

    Beyond that, I would do the first line of Finnegan’s Wake, but I think it would be much too long, and a bit confusing seeing as it’s both the first and last line of the book

  35. So many of my favorite books actually don’t have great opening sentences but are great books..like the agony and ecstasy.
    But here are two I love.
    “Dear friend, I am writing you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.” – Perks of Being a Wallflower
    “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the door the heavy scent of lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.” – The Picture of Dorian Gray

  36. “Come a little closer.
    Get comfortable. You know what I mean: settle in, take off your coat, have a seat. You are about to hear a story.”
    The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

    (I just picked a random book off of my shelf and I found this)

    • Yes, I do agree with that one. I really liked The Maze Runner, but only read to the Scorch Trials because even that sequel didn’t interest me much.

  37. i think you forgot about this one:

    “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”
    -The Fault In Our Stars, John Green

  38. “It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”
    – Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

  39. Two of my favorites:

    “What about a teakettle?” -Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

    “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” -Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events (The Bad Beginning)

  40. “It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.”- The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

  41. I’m not sure about my favourite line(s), but here’s few good ones.

    “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.” – The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

    “I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.” – In Darkness by Nick Lake

    “When Serena went missing
    I looked in all the places she might go
    and she wasn’t anywhere
    just like a lot of other girls weren’t anywhere.” – My Book of Life By Angel by Martine Leavitt

    “Nothing attracts attention like a dead whale.” – Contingency Plan by Lou Allin (I didn’t particularly like this book, but I thought it had a good first line.)

  42. This is the first line of Glass Houses by Rachel Caine:

    “On the day Claire became a member of the Glass House, somebody stole her laundry.” I just found this funny and it caused me to keep reading.

  43. It should be “The cat went to the park” or “The dog looked into his water bowl, but saw there was actually no water that he could drink.” or “The boy ran away from his parents because he thought by running away, he wouldn’t have to do any chores, but then he got lonely, and returned home only to find even more chores for him to do”.

  44. My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or why I exist. -Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

  45. “It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it’s all you’ve got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.” — Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

  46. Jasnah Kholin pretended to enjoy the party, giing no indication that she intended to have one of the guests killed. By Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance.

    I love that book.

  47. My favorite is…

    “He didn’t know where he was, all he knew was that he didn’t belong there.”

    – My upcoming book: “My home is the Forest.”

  48. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

    -Gone with the Wind

  49. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favorite books, and I love the opening: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The whole first chapter is full of beautiful language and imagery.

  50. “My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.” – Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo.

    And

    “A while ago, when I was younger and kind of knock-kneed, I attended the Alton School for the Remarkably Giftless.” – The Amazing Compendium of Edward Magorium, by N.E. Bode.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *