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Some writers can craft the perfect first line on the very first try—and if that’s happened to you, you can bet the writing muses were in a darn good mood that day. Most writers struggle, returning to the first line of a novel, memoir, story, poem, or personal essay again and again, continuing to rework the opening line even after the rest of the piece is done.
To help inspire you (and give your muse a nudge), here are some examples of first lines from literature (poems, short stories, and novels) that offer great insight into opening line techniques.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.
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The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green…
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
I’m still not sure I made the right choice when I told my wife about the bakery attack.
“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.
I’d never given much thought to how I would die—though I’d had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
April is the cruellest month.
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
And One Important Thing To Remember About Your First Line
Your opening line doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it needs to set to tone for the rest of your book, story, or poem. First lines are so important (and fun), there’s an entire publication dedicated to works that start with the same first line.
But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to start out with a great line when you’re just beginning a new project. Sometimes, your first line will be the last one you write!