I love a novel with some memorable opening lines. For me, a strong intro instantly grabs my attention — revealing part of a character’s personality, maybe, or raising questions as to what will unfold later in the book.
Here are the eye-catching opening lines from three classic novels:
Call me Ishmael.
Herman Melville, “Moby Dick”.
You better not never tell nobody but God.
Alice Walker, “The Colour Purple”.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Daphne du Maurier, “Rebecca”.
Each of the above examples is succinct, yet they instantly capture a snapshot of what, or who, will be relevant within the pages to follow. They engage the reader from the get-go.
After reading du Maurier’s introduction, don’t you want to find out why Manderley means so much to the narrator?
A Poetic Start
Nonetheless, there are opening lines that are far from succinct, yet are just as effective.
The following is the start to Charles Dickens’ “A Tale Of 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.
This opening vividly captures the drama of life in England and France. Apart from the use of commas, there is no sensible punctuation. But Dickens, the storyteller, is painting a picture for the reader through his words, poetically highlighting the broken discord of society.
Whether I’m reading a “Friend” short story, serial or novel, opening lines will always be significant for me.
As a writer, you, too, can grab the reader’s attention from the start with some carefully chosen words — words that the reader can still reflect on by the time the story is finished.
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