First Lines

I’ve been thinking a lot about first lines. It all began last week when I started reading Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez. The first line was so beautiful I reread it several times, and only after a few pages did I fully understand it.

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

I can’t stop thinking about this line. I hear in my head constantly; there’s something about it that just sticks with you.

A lot of pressure is put on first lines. A slew of articles, and probably even books, have been written on the importance of capturing the reader’s attention from the beginning. But I’ve never thought too much about first lines. As a reader, I’ve always liked to give writers the benefit of the doubt and allow them the opportunity to draw me in (though if I’m not interested by page 50 or so, it’s time to concede).

Even as a writer, I’ve never thought too much about first lines, simply because I haven’t often gotten to the point where I’ve needed to. I struggle with an annoying little habit of starting numerous projects without ever finishing them, and I believe that great first lines come when a story has already been written, and after a great deal of revision. In the beginning, stories are amorphic; they have no shape but infinite potential.  It’s often impossible to tell how a story will turn out, what shape it will take, or how it will be told until it is done being written (a concept that I’m still getting used to).

Now that I’ve decided to make writing a priority in my life and have become more determined than ever to finish the projects I start, I’m starting to think more about things like first lines. I’m paying closer attention to the books and short stories I read. I try to determine what it is that I like or don’t like about a story, what makes a story engaging, and what I like about my favorite authors’ writing styles.

The first line of Love in the Time of Cholera affected me so profoundly that I decided I wanted to go back and take a look at the first lines of some of my favorite books with fresh eyes and a deeper appreciation. Here are some of my favorites:

This one is from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  by Stieg Larsson:

“It happened every year, was almost a ritual.”

This one is from Neverwhere by one of my favorite fantasy writers, Neil Gaiman:

“The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.”

And this one comes from my all-time favorite book since I was in middle school (and which is quite possibly the book that made me want to be a writer), The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton:

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

I doubly love this last one because it’s also the last line of the book.

I’d love to know what other great first lines are out there. Please feel free to share with me your favorites. Which stuck with you or made you feel inspired?



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