The Power of a First Sentence

I'm often struck by the opening sentence of a novel or short story. It can draw me in and set expectations for what's to come. This isn't always true, of course, but a story's first line is the author's opening salvo. It may be a "hook" or may operate on a more subtle level, if it does at all. The first sentence can foretell something about the story, or may set the tone for the entire work. Some first sentences have a magnetic power and draw me in, raising my curiosity, nearly forcing me to read on. Others simply strike me because they resonate on some deep level of which I'm unaware. The opening sentence may be a clue about how I will spend a number of hours.

I've gathered 14 first sentences from randomly chosen novels, and one from a short story. They're presented in no particular order. Some are famous opening lines; others are not. Some presage what's to come; others don't. I think each one is interesting in its own way.


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

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

"The pavement rises up and hits her. Slams into her face, drives the lower rim of her glasses into her cheek." -- How it All Began, Penelope Lively

"As the ground rushes up to meet him, Kevin thinks about missiles again." --Next, James Hynes

"The headline catches Heloise's eye as she waits in the always long line at Starbucks." --And When She Was Good, Laura Lippman

"There was once upon a time a piece of wood in the shop of an old carpenter named Master Antonio." -- Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi

"This is how I always start: 'I am the prosecutor.'" -- Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." -- The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

"When I think of my wife, I always think of her head." -- Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

"The memories materialized bubbles surfacing slowly from the darkness of a bottomless well." -- Inferno, Dan Brown

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." -- The Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allan Poe

"The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through." -- The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." -- The Dark Tower, Stephen King

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

If you are as drawn in by a book's first sentence as I am, please join the conversation by commenting with first sentences from novels or short stories you found arresting and powerful.