One of my students came up with a cracking first line the other day and it got me thinking about one of my favourite topics.

A busy and harassed judge/editor/agent reads so much that anything that makes them notice you has got to be good. Compelling, gripping, intriguing, it has to get the reader interested.

I went back to some of my favourite examples taken from the top 100 of a recent poll of all-time great openings.


As you know, I do like to write about the importance of good first lines as a way of grabbing the reader.

How about these examples to make the point for me?

* Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

* It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984

* It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

* I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

* Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial

* 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. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Each one draws you into the story right from the off, either by a strong narrative voice, an intriguing thought or simply through the sheer quality of the prose (‘if the opening lines are like, just imagine what the rest will be like’, thinks the reader).

Do that and you have given yourself a great chance of success.


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