The first words I type onto the page are almost always the most challenging. I’m starting from scratch. I’m staring at a blank page. I’m writing the very words that will determine whether someone continues reading or finds something else—talk about nerve racking.
So when I started my latest project, I looked through my bookshelf for a few good opening lines, the “Once upon a times” of my bookshelf, so to speak. Since I found them inspiring, I thought I’d share. Here are some of my favorite opening lines.
“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”
I have to admit, when I think of great opening first lines, this is the first one that comes to mind. What a strange, gross image. The next paragraph proceeds to explain that “you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored cat food for a while, to get the pinks right.” But this line isn’t just good description, it sets up the story by describing one of the most photographed, beautiful things in nature as ugly.
“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.”
Immediately, I’m hooked. I want to know why. I want to know if she’s really depressed or her mother just thinks she is. I even want to know what book she keeps reading over and over.
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
This is a classic great first line from a classic book, but I still had to include it. The reader immediately wants to know the same thing that Fern wants to know.
“Once upon a time, there was a pair of pants.”
Hey, look, a story that actually starts with “Once upon a time.” Overused or not, it works here. After the “Once upon a time” I’m expecting something big, dramatic, important. What do I get? Pants.
“Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity—Good. His dad had the pickup going.”
Okay, so that’s more than one sentence, but I love the way the simple sound and the “good” set up the story. It’s interesting, so it keeps me reading.
Since I know there are many great books out there I haven’t read yet, this is just a list of the best openings for the books that I have on my shelves. What are your favorite opening lines?