Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods March 17, 2015 - 11:32am

I'm sitting in front of my computer staring listlessly at my WIP right now, trying to revise the first chapter to be more hook-worthy. Still, I find myself having trouble coming up with a great opening line. I know once I do, the rest of the revisions will flow much more easily! In the meantime I thought I'd seek inspiration here.

What is the best opening line you've ever read? I'll even go first ...

The Thief of Always, by Clive Barker: "The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive."

Couldn't put the book down after reading that the first time, and I still read it once per year just so I can experience that opener again!

Jason Van Horn's picture
Jason Van Horn from North Carolina is reading A Feast For Crows March 17, 2015 - 1:09pm

"I'm pretty much fucked." - The Martian

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories March 17, 2015 - 7:46pm

"I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot," or "That Claudius," or "Claudius the Stammerer," or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius," am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never since become disentangled."

 I,Claudius by Robert Grave

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault March 18, 2015 - 7:12am

I feel like I reference this book way too much, but it's one of my favorites.

"I panicked and swallowed a handful of fireflies and black widows the inferno had not." --Dermaphoria, Craig Clevenger

After you read the book, that one line will make you cry.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore March 18, 2015 - 11:23am

My favorite is Lolita:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Okay, so that's more than one sentence. Or this, from Samuel Beckett's Murphy:

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

 

Speaking of Clevenger, I like The Contortionist's Handbook opening better:

I can count my overdoses on one hand.

Which is okay, I guess … but once you find out he has polydactyly and there've been six of them, so clever.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson March 18, 2015 - 12:17pm

You guys heard of this publisher Hamiliton Cork? He can tell by one sentence whether he wants to publish a book or not.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault March 18, 2015 - 12:29pm

I also love that TCH line; took me awhile to realize that he lists six overdoses, but when I did, you're right, holy shit. So good.

Haha, is he a real publisher? There's this Mighty Boosh episode with a character called Hamilton Cork and they go on about that. "I can tell from one sentence..." There was also a bubble-gum creature named Charlie.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson March 18, 2015 - 1:03pm

Both he and Charlie are VERY real.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault March 18, 2015 - 1:05pm

Well I know Charlie's real, I mean, duh, he was repaired by a crocodile shaman. But Hamilton Cork looked a bit wooden.

Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods March 18, 2015 - 4:41pm

These are some great lines! I hope people keep 'em coming ... They're all very intriguing.

tigrace's picture
tigrace from New York is reading The Secret Garden again March 18, 2015 - 6:55pm

I always read the first line of a book before deciding to read it. I just re-read the children's classic The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the first line starts you wondering......

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 19, 2015 - 4:07am

I can't seem to stick to just the first sentence, but the first few sentences...

I loved the first sentence from the prologue of next month's book club selection - Skullcrack City:

Yes, that is your body on the ground. On behalf of everyone involved in your murder, we'd like to apologize.

I've also always loved the first few sentences of Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson:

A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping... A Cherokee filled with bourbon... A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student...

And a family from Marshalltown who headonned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri...

... I rose up sopping wet from sleeping under the pouring rain, and something less than conscious, thanks to the first three of the people I've already named - the salesman and the Indian and the student - all of whom had given me drugs.

The first few sentences of the first story, "In A Tub," from Amy Hempel's Collected Stories:

My heart - I thought it stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God. I passed two churches with cars parked in front. Then I stopped at the third because no one else had.

I think this will be the last one for now. The opening of one of my favorite bad ass novels - Shella by Andrew Vachss (again I'm doing a few sentences...):

The first time I killed someone, I was scared. Not scared to be doing it - I did it because I was scared.

Shella told me it was like that for her the first time she had sex.

I was fifteen that first time. Shella was nine.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 19, 2015 - 4:08am

I can't believe nobody has mentioned Will Chris Baer's Kiss Me, Judas...

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore March 19, 2015 - 5:41am

Oh, Judas is a great one. I just figured someone else would get to it.

I must be dead for there is nothing but blue snow and the furious silence of a gunshot.

However, the best part comes two sentences later:

I'm cold, religiously cold.

Tucson's picture
Tucson from Belgium is reading Late Essays - J.M. Coetzee March 19, 2015 - 7:01am

Of course that one from Anna Karenina:

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

But Arnon Grunberg wrote a good one too, I think:

"The Bird is ill." (Asylum seekers)

And of course J.D. Salinger:

"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." (Catcher in the Rye)

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault March 19, 2015 - 7:16am

Tom Spanbauer anyone? 

"Parmesan cheese. This all started with parmesan cheese."--Now is the Hour

"If you’re the devil, then it’s not me telling this story. Not me being Out-In-The-Shed. That’s the name she gave me not even knowing. She being Ida Richilieu, and later, after what happened up on Devil’s Pass, they called her Peg-Leg Ida." --The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault March 19, 2015 - 7:20am

I'm apparently incapable of loving just a single line, but this is one of my favorite couple lines from Kiss Me, Judas.

"I want to comfort her, to chase her fears into the snow. But sympathy is buried in me, like a stone in the belly of a goat. And the goat is the rare animal that will eat garbage. I hold her hand until she falls asleep, then steal fifty dollars from her purse."

Not a first line, I know, but Baer's just so quote-worthy.

Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods March 19, 2015 - 11:12am

Dude, I feel like whenever I start to get discouraged about writing, all I have to do is read the latest responses on this thread. This should be a thing ALWAYS. Never let it die!

aGuyWhoTypes's picture
aGuyWhoTypes from Millersburg, Ohio is reading Outlining Your Novel March 19, 2015 - 12:00pm

I killed her.

 

 

And the worst part is I don't know what book it's from. But if anyone does let me know. I'll buy it now!

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault March 19, 2015 - 1:05pm

I agree!!

After I took Richard Thomas' class, one lesson of which was dedicated to Hooks, I couldn't help but judge every book, every story by its first couple lines. I mean, I guess I was probably doing that anyways, that's why it's called the Hook, but now I'm much more conscious of it.

Super important though, laying down the right bread crumbs to pull the reader forward into the story. 

 

Check it: https://litreactor.com/columns/storyville-narrative-hooks

 

Vonnegut Check's picture
Vonnegut Check from Baltimore March 20, 2015 - 2:21am

The Virgin Suicides

On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide—it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese—the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck March 20, 2015 - 5:51am

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." -- Fear and Loathing. No other opening line has felt so much like the first drop on a roller coaster, especially considering everything that came after it. The entire opening paragraph is one of my favorites, period:

 

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive . . .' And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming, 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?'"

 

 

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore March 20, 2015 - 6:00am

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong March 20, 2015 - 7:37am

I always go to The Dark Tower.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson March 20, 2015 - 10:47am

It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times...

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading Zombie Bake Off by Stephen Graham Jones March 20, 2015 - 1:32pm

I was going to do the Kiss Me Judas one :)

Are we including short stories in this? If so:

"Tell me things I won't mind forgetting." From Amy Hempel's In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is buried.

 

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore March 20, 2015 - 2:44pm

Whenever someone asks for good lines from literature, I just wanna retype Hempel's entire catalog. 

*resists narcissistic urge to list a bunch of his own short-story openers*

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb March 20, 2015 - 2:50pm

My favourite first line is from The Crow Road by Iain Banks: 'It was the day my grandmother exploded.'

Although I've completely lost interest in him now, I still bring out the opening line of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke in these topics too:

'If you're going to read this, don't bother.'

Another variation on that idea I like is the opening of Clive Barker's Mr B Gone that just says 'Burn this book.'

 

Nick's picture
Nick from Toronto is reading A Million Little Fibers by Steven McTowelie March 20, 2015 - 3:20pm

"It was the best of times, it was the *blurst* of times?!?"

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore March 20, 2015 - 4:15pm

The Simpsons, yo. Mr. Burns's monkey writing sweatshop.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 20, 2015 - 10:48pm

I'm with Time Johnson on the Dark Tower.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest March 21, 2015 - 11:03am

This isn't my favorite, but nonetheless I still like it.

"Perhaps the price of comfort is that life passes more rapidly."

- The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian

Another favorite:

"You, Yunior, have a girlfriend named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans."

Alma from the short story collection This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

One more for good measure:

'"Specks—specks all over the third panel, see?—no, that one—the second one up from the floor and I wanted to point this out to someone yesterday but a photo shoot intervened and Yaki Nakamari or whatever the hell the designer's name is—a master craftsman not—mistook me for someone else so I couldn't register the complaint, but, gentlemen—and ladies—there they are: specks, annoying, tiny specks, and they don't look accidental but like they were somehow done by a machine—so I don't want a lot of description, just the story, streamlined, no frills, the lowdown: who, what, where, when and don't leave out why, though I'm getting the distinct impression by the looks on your sorry faces that why won't get answered—now, come on, goddamnit, what's the story?"'

Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel March 21, 2015 - 8:23pm

It was a pleasure to burn.

--Ray Bradbury

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon March 23, 2015 - 4:36am

I almost put 451. One of my favorite books. And a great opener.

Gordon said: Whenever someone asks for good lines from literature, I just wanna retype Hempel's entire catalog.

I feel the same way. Every opener she has deserves to be in this thread.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK March 23, 2015 - 11:23am

The Last Man by Mary Shelley:

I am the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which, when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous population.

Perfectly setting the story, as told by the last man on Earth, using England as an allegory for his own insignificance - note he says he is the native, not a native.

Repo Kempt's picture
Repo Kempt from Halifax, Canada is reading Night Shift by Stephen King March 26, 2015 - 8:02am

Some great ones so far. Thief of Always, Lolita and Farenheit 451 are three of my favourites.

"The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail." - Peter Benchley, Jaws

"All this happened, more or less." - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

"There is nothing more overrated in the practice of criminal law than the truth." Lost Girls, Andrew Pyper

 

 

 

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies March 26, 2015 - 9:22am

They sent him to Dallas to kill a nigger pimp named Wendell Durfee.

First James Ellroy I ever read. Changed my life.

Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods August 15, 2015 - 6:40am

I'm reviving this post because I just started a new book with a stellar first line!

"I am where dead children go."

- "The Girl from the Well" by Rin Chupeco

Jimothy Scott's picture
Jimothy Scott from Canada is reading My Helmet for my Pillow August 15, 2015 - 9:49am

"Burn this book."

-"Mister. B. Gone

 

Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods August 15, 2015 - 11:45am

@Jimothy that really is an INCREDIBLE first line!!!!!

Jimothy Scott's picture
Jimothy Scott from Canada is reading My Helmet for my Pillow August 15, 2015 - 8:01pm

@Anna 

It's an interesting read. It's told by a demon and he's constantly trying to get you to do things

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb August 16, 2015 - 2:51pm

@Jim, I'm a big fan of Clive B, and that's my favourite book of his after Galilee.

Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods August 16, 2015 - 3:26pm

I'm definitely going to check that one out! It sounds very compelling ;-)

Jimothy Scott's picture
Jimothy Scott from Canada is reading My Helmet for my Pillow August 16, 2015 - 7:33pm

@Chacron

I'll check it out

dollface993's picture
dollface993 from Detroit is reading As many craft essays as I can find September 30, 2015 - 12:20am

The first sentence in Fear and Loathing would've been my first choice. Since it was mentioned, I will agree wholeheartedly. My second favorite is from Tell All:

Act one, scene one opens with Lillian Hellman clawing her way, stumbling and scrambling, through the thorny nighttime underbrush of some German schwarzwald, a Jewish baby clamped to each of her tits, another brood of infants clinging to her back.

Who can possibly stop reading after an opener like that?

Flycatcher's picture
Flycatcher from Singapore is reading Vintage book of contemporary American short stories, American Psycho September 30, 2015 - 10:48am

There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire -Neil Gaiman, Stardust

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal September 30, 2015 - 8:51pm

I don't know if this is THE best, but...

My mother thinks I'm dead.

...from Legend was a pretty good opening line.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault October 3, 2015 - 10:43am

Yes, that is your body on the ground. On behalf of everyone involved in your murder, we'd like to apologize.

--Skullcrack City, by Jeremy Robert Johnson. (Two sentences, I know. But they make up the first line which I generally feel is more important than just the first sentence. Unless you define line as sentence, in which case I need to shut up and just get back on subject.) 

Holy shit, what a nightmare hell-storm of a book. Like all my favorites, it left me not even knowing who I was by the last page. Coming back to my own skin and life felt absurd. Great beginning. The whole prologue makes almost no sense when you start, though almost all the sense in the universe by the end. It's hilarious, hurts like hell, and I can probably guarantee you've never read anything like it.

Myla Thomas Fairchild's picture
Myla Thomas Fai... from Phoenix, AZ October 5, 2015 - 11:29am

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

 

from "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka. I know it's old school but it just always stuck with me and I think of it often. Just this idea of transforming into something so alien and different and unexpected. It was exciting to see where it was going to go from there.

Mr. Mousai's picture
Mr. Mousai from Saint Louis is reading Darkmans by Nicola Barker October 6, 2015 - 5:49pm

"YOU KNOW how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars?" - To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

Why for me: I feel Harry's vibe right away, and I can feel and see Havana.

Why technique wise: It establishes two HUGE things in one sentence: character's tone and a strong setting.

L. L. Lehmann's picture
L. L. Lehmann from São Paulo is reading The Quantity Theory of Insanity October 9, 2015 - 6:20am

American Gods by Neil Gaiman:

"The best thing—in Shadow's opinion, perhaps the only good thing—about being in prison was a feeling of relief.(...) He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it."

 

Something Happened by Joseph Heller:

"I get the willies when I see closed doors."

These are two lines that made me really want to know these characters.