My Favorite Lines

I was recently reading an article about how writers should work to create memorable character names, because those are the type things that readers remember. Then this weekend I was talking with a friend about how sometimes the first lines of a story or a song can grab you and pull you in. So, for today, I want to give my top ten favorite opening story lines (with two poems) that were written by mortals.

  •  Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote, the droghte of March hath perced to the roote.

This is the opening line to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, something that I was required to learn (complete with the proper accent) in a college English class. My professor was an expert on Middle English and the little stories of this pilgrimage to Canterbury, and he made complicated literature fun, so I must start with it.

  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

From George Orwell’s 1984, this reminds me of something that feels more likely than ever.

  • Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

From The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. I used to read this to the kids on Halloween to terrify them, and accomplished that by using my best E.G. Marshall voice (of CBS Radio Mystery fame). They still refuse to listen to it, and are forever haunted by Lenore.

  • It was a pleasure to burn.

From Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which is supposedly the temperature at which books burn. Right now society is only pulling down statues and getting things “contextualized.” We’ll get to book burning soon enough.

  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. A dear friend of mine just loves that line so much, that I feel required to include it.

  • 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 was once listed as the best selling novel of all time, and may still be. Its backdrop is the French Revolution, and the story is relevant today. But the opening line is more memorable because of what today might be tomorrow.

  • Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

Margaret Mitchell came up with the perfect names with Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, and this line is the epitome of the woman. Do you prefer Gone with the Wind as a book or a movie?

  • It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

The opening lines of Hemingway’s The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, a story I read in high school that floored me with its ending. Add to that I didn’t think I was old enough to be reading it, and it was unforgettable.

  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

With all of the inventions of language and characters that were to come from J.R.R. Tolkien, I admire this simple start to The Hobbit, which were also the first lines he put to paper for that incredible book.

  • Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

High Flight, by John Magee, is a poem I heard as a kid, when my parents would let me stay up until the local television stations signed off for the night. It was a thrill to be able to stay up late, and that poem usually marked a goal for me. Too bad television no longer stops for the night.

There you have my favorite 10 first lines, at least for this moment in time. They may not be the best, but this is my opinion. I unashamedly admit that I did look and verify that I got these correct as originally written, and I would love to hear your favorites.


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