8 Excellent First Lines + 1

What do you think of this prize winning first sentence?

“Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

If you love it, uh oh.  Yes, it was a winner for Sue Fondrie ofOshkosh,Wisconsin, but the contest was the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing.   Contestants are asked to submit the absolute worst possible opening sentences to imaginary novels.

The contest is named after British author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton whose 1839 novel Paul Clifford begins with this famous opening:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”


So what’s a good beginning?  Here are some of my favorites:

  1. “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.”  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)
  2. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  3. “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” City of Glass by Paul Auster (1985)
  4. “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.”  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
  5.  “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  1984 by George Orwell (1949)
  6. “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  by C. S. Lewis (1952)
  7.  “They shoot the white girl first.” Paradise by Toni Morrison (1998)

And my favorite:

  1. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian today because of Owen Meany.”  Owen Meany by John Irving (1990)

What do you think?  Do these grab you?  What is your favorite first line?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The Bible, by God



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4 responses to “8 Excellent First Lines + 1

  1. Ian Bennett

    I’ve always loved Kurt Vonnegut’s first lines.

    “I was sitting in a bar one night , talking rather loudly about a person I hated—and a man with a beard sat down beside me, and he said amiably, ‘Why don’t you have him killed?'” Look at the Birdie (date unknown)

    “The Summer had died peacefully in its sleep, and Autumn, as soft-spoken executrix, was locking life up safely until Spring came to claim it.” Confido
    (date unknown)

    Both quotes from Look at the Birdie, a collection of fourteen previously unpublished short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, released on October 20, 2009

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