The opening line, or the incipit, as it’s technically called. Sometimes it sets up the story, other times it doesn’t. But people often remember the beginning and the end of what they read, hear or watch, so it’s important to open up with something that will stick with the reader. There are elements that an opening line can use to achieve greatness: juxtaposition, mystery, humor, intrigue, simplicity, foreshadowing. These are just a few of the tools used to make a great opening line.
But if the first line isn’t that great, don’t worry. There are hundreds, thousands of lines that follow. Don’t judge a book by its incipit. If I did that, I never would have read Lord of the Rings.
So before I get into Twilight, here are 15 of my favorite opening lines, ranked from best to least best. They’re all still good. Some are just more good than others.
- “There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it” – C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- “The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain” – Stephen King, It
- “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” – God, The Bible
- “The story so far: In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move” – Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
- “It was a pleasure to burn” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
- “People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day” – Charles Portis, True Grit
- “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
- “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful” – Roald Dahl, Matilda
- “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table” – T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
- “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys” – Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes
- “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly” – Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- “There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always” – Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
- “On the last day of summer, ten hours before fall…my grandfather took me out to the Wall” – Dr. Seuss, The Butter Battle Book
- “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the first line of Twilight: “I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”
This is a great opening line! 9/10. It has that element of mystery that is so important to an opening line. But it’s also thought-provoking.
I don’t think about my own death too much, either. I just know that drowning would be the worst way to go. Being burnt alive would be terrible, and falling from the top of the Eiffel Tower doesn’t seem pleasant either. But a painful death doesn’t have to be physical. As the Asian man in Inception said, I don’t want to “become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.” Dying alone would also be a horrible way to go.
Okay, that’s enough death thoughts for one day. Hopefully the rest of the book is as good as this sentence. That’s the problem with starting out on a high note. Things usually go down from there. It’s hard to sustain momentum over an extended period of time, and I’m guessing this will be the case with this book.
The preface ends like this: “The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.”
First, useless adverb alert: most smiles are meant to be friendly, so it’s redundant to say someone is smiling in a friendly way. If I were rewriting this sentence, I’d take out “friendly.” So Stephenie Meyer, if you happen to be reading this and you’re planning to rewrite the entire Twilight series, start with my suggestion.
Anway, I’m hooked. Who is this hunter? Why is he trying to kill? Why is he smiling right before he’s going to kill? How did the narrator get into this situation, and what will she do next? We’ll probably find out in a few hundred pages.