Tuesday, June 22, 2010

That First Line

I have been swimming in Dick Francis mysteries for the past few weeks - well, re-swimming, really. It has been an interesting exercise listening to the rhythms of his plots while admiring his tight use of language. He always writes in first person, his protagonists are always male and his first lines always throw you right into the plot's deep end.

This got me thinking about first lines: here's a brief sample of some I particularly enjoy:

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 Philosopher's Stone

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.
A.A. Milne - Winnie the Pooh

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'
Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
J.R.R. Tolkien - The Hobbit

Who's there?
William Shakespeare - Hamlet

"Mrs Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat."
Neil Gaiman - Chivalry

"All children, except one, grow up"
J.M. Barrie - Peter Pan

Early this morning, 1st January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenous Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days.
PD James - Children of Men

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

James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.
Ian Fleming - Goldfinger

The last camel died at noon.
Ken Follet - The Key to Rebecca

They both wore thin rubber masks.
Dick Francis - Bonecrack

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.
Ruth Rendall - A Judgement in Stone

Please share your favourite first line - or your favourites!

Please note: I'm very pleased to be hosting Margot Kinberg of "Confessions of a Mystery Novelist" on Thursday as a stop on her "Magical Mystery Blog Tour". Margot will be writing about those nasty 'writing demons' and how she dealt with them while writing her latest mystery novel "B-Very Flat".


  1. Great first lines! Thess by no means my 'favourite', but certainly hit me hard in the face:

    'When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." Alice Sebold, The Almost Moon.

    'Can I explain why I wanted to jump off a tower-block?' Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down

  2. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time rolling on the ground with men who think a stiffy represents personal growth.
    Hard Eight, by Janet Evanovich

  3. AA; Those are great!

    Terry; That made me seriously laugh out loud. I love the tone.

  4. Elspeth - Opening lines are sooo very important. They either grab you or they don't. One of my favorites is the first line of A Judgement in Stone which you've included here. What a wonderful line! One that I like, and I'm not sure why, but I do, is the first line of Agatha Christie's Postern of Fate: "'Books,' said Tuppence." Just love it.

    Oh, and I am very excited about my trip to your blog on Thursday!!!! I appreciate your being such a kind hostess : ). Apologies for sounding like a nit-picker, but it won't be my last stop; there are two more after it. Must pack extra shirts.

  5. As much as I love a great first line, none pop into my head at the moment. All these are fantastic. If only my own were one-tenth as good. I write, rewrite and do it over and over until I come close.

  6. Great post. I love those lines.

    One of my favorites: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. - Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier


  7. I love the Harry Potter one--I was sucked in INSTANTLY. But this one has long been my favorite:

    "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,." Tale of Two Cities (which also happens to have my favorite ending lines)

    First lines also make for one of my favorite movie subplots... Billy Crystal in Throw Mama From the Train... "the night was moist" *snort*

  8. Gotta put in the first line from one of my favorite books, GODS IN ALABAMA ...

    "THERE ARE GODS in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus."

    And I love Dick Francis ... his heroes were so quietly sturdy and competent!

  9. Margot; You're so right about first lines - love that Agatha Christie one! And thanks for the note about your tour - I'll fix the post.

    Carol; I know exactly what you mean! I think I'm on at least the fifth version of my first line - not to mention first paragraph.

    Clarissa; A classic. I know it's included on many people's lists.

    WT; That first line is pure poetry, isn't it? And yes, hurrah for first lines that make anyone laugh.

    Cynthia;That's a great one! I'm always pleased to meet another Dick Francis fan.

  10. "My name is Asher Lev, *the* Asher Lev, about whom you have read in newspapers and magazines, about whom you talk so much at your dinner affairs and cocktail parties, the notorious and legendary Lev of the *Brooklyn Crucifixion*."

    From *My Name is Asher Lev*, by Chiam Potok

  11. I've always enjoyed Dick Francis books. He really drops you right into the middle of it!

    The first line that always sticks with me is 'It was a pleasure to burn' from Fahrenheit 451

  12. IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Pride & Predjudice, Jane Austin

    After dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat: he had said, “I’ll be with you at latest by ten,” and when midnight had struck I couldn’t stay quiet any longer and went down into the street. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

    She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

    We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

  13. These are great first sentences, Elspeth. I had forgotten that great opener for Winnie the Pooh. That one sentence creates a perfect picture.


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