What’s the most memorable first line you, er, remember?

August 2, 2013 § 1 Comment

600622_515218381866357_703050485_n“He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

I read Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche over 30 years ago, and to this day, I remember that opening line word for word. I can honestly say, it’s the best opening line I’ve ever read.

A lot hangs on the opening line of a novel. If you’ve got a great first line, it immediately sucks the reader into your story. If it’s just “OK,” a browsing reader might keep reading … and if so, you’d better hope the rest of that first page captures them. But if it’s terrible? Your book is going back on the shelf, my friend.

That’s why Stephen King agonizes over the first lines of his books, a fact he just wrote about in an article for the Atlantic. He lists a few good (and one terrible) opening line, and talks about why they work (or don’t). What it boils down to, King says, is this:

An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

Does the first line of Scaramouche fit King’s criteria? I think so, with a one-word addition: “Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this guy.”

Check out King’s article. The man knows his stuff (obviously) and, as usual, he makes the sharing of said stuff interesting and lively.

Got a great first line to share — either yours or someone else’s? Leave it in the comments! Let me know where it’s from, though — I might want to grab that book.


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§ One Response to What’s the most memorable first line you, er, remember?

  • George Schober says:

    “When Mary K.’s husband–his name was Oskar–was still living and when she herself was still walking on two very beautiful legs (on September 21, 1925, not far from her apartment, a streetcar cut the right one off above the knee), a certain Dr. Negria appeared, a young Romanian physician, who was continuing his education here in Vienna at the famous medical school and was serving his residency at the General Hospital.” –Heimito von Doderer, The Strudlhof Steps, 1951 (my translation)

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