First Lines

It was a pleasure to burn. – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.

The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen. – Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections.

‘And then say what? Say, “Forget you’re hungry, forget you got shot inna back by some racist cop – Chuck was here? Chuck come up to Harlem -”
‘No, I’ll tell you what -’
‘ “Chuck come up to Harlem and -” ’
‘I’ll tell you what -’
‘Say, “Chuck come up to Harlem and gonna take care a business for the black community”?’
That does it.

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities.

On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back. – Richard Matheson, I am Legend.

To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping
invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black,
crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea…

– Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – Stephen King, The Gunslinger.

These are some of my favourite first lines / openings. I like each one for different reasons. King’s opening sentence to the Dark Tower series is great because it essentially sums up the entire series in one simple sentence (and, if you’ve read the whole series, you’ll know just how important that first line is). Meanwhile, Wolfe’s opening to The Bonfire of the Vanities conveys the sense of confusion and chaos the whole novel is infused with – plus the dialogue is spot-on. I read I am Legend when I was about thirteen years old. The first sentence blew me away and really did send a chill down my spine – it’s still one of the best I’ve ever read.

I don’t think first lines are the be-all-and-end-all of a good story, but I do think that a strong opening line or paragraph makes the reader trust the writer. It establishes the writer. They clearly know what they’re doing.

It’d be interesting to hear some thoughts on this, and see other’s people’s favourite opening lines.