It was a dark and stormy night… (First Sentences)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. That is how Jane Austen started her book, Pride and Prejudice in 1813, and made it into the top 100 best first lines from novels according to the American Book Review.

A knockout first sentence can immediately draw a reader in, and helps set the tone of the story, so I think it’s important to create the best first line possible. Having said that, a good first line means nothing if the rest of the book is terrible! So of course the second sentence, and the third, and right up till the end all matters too.

When I’m in a bookstore choosing a book, not only do I go by cover design, author name, and the blurb on the book jacket, I always read the first sentence, and often the whole first page to see if it grabs my interest. If a writer can come up with the goods on the first page I know they’re more likely to keep me interested throughout the whole book.

As a reader, how important is the first sentence to you? As a writer, how easy or difficult do you find it to come up with a winner of a first line?

I love writing first sentences. I usually write them first before working out a detailed plot, because I find if I just let the words flow it’s easier to get a feel for the story idea and the protagonist.

Here are a few of my first sentences from completed stories, short stories, and works in progress…

Some first sentences are short:

Birthdays suck. (The Big Four-O, short story)

And some first sentences are long:

For most people, the worst time to get an attack of the hiccups would be at the dentist just as the drill is approaching your mouth, or on a date, just as he leans in for The Kiss, but for me, the unfortunate diaphragmatic spasm came when Channel Four news crossed to my live broadcast at the Sydney Travel Show. (February or Forever, work-in-progress)

And others are somewhere in between:

Damn you Barbie! You and your size four figure, all over tan, and legs to the moon! (The Life Makeover Club)

Dr. Sylvia Greene had never done anything like this before in her life. (The January Wish)

‘Oops’ is not the word you ever want to hear from your hairdresser; scissors in one hand, a large section of hair in the other. (Untitled, work-in-progress)


And here are some great first sentences I’ve found from other authors:

If a road could look welcoming, then Summer Street had both arms out and the kettle boiling. (Past Secrets, Cathy Kelly)

Under normal circumstances, Faith and I should not be home when my mother calls and invites us to come see her brand-new coffin. (Keeping Faith, Jodi Picoult)

What would you do if you thought you were about to die? (Heaven Can Wait, Cally Taylor)

Of all the crap, crap, crappy nights I’ve ever had in the whole of my crap life. (Remember Me, Sophie Kinsella)


Why not comment and share a favourite first sentence or two, or maybe you’d like to share the first sentence of one of your novels, or a work-in-progress? I’d love to hear some more 🙂


About Juliet Madison

Humorous & Heartwarming Fiction ~ Experience the magic of life and love...

Posted on November 21, 2011, in Excerpts, General, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. A dead man fell from the sky, landing at my feet with a thud.
    Gary Corby — The Pericles Commission

    I LOVE that book! This is an interesting post. Thanks Juliet!

  2. Love first lines, first paras, Juliet (indeed, my last conference workshop included a bunch of my favorites, like Anna Campbell, Jenny Crusie, Nalini Singh…) I’m especially partial to the dialogue beginning – tends to throw you right into the story.

    As to an offering… I had one for my third book that was eventually edited out (am saving it for another book):
    Where the hell are my knickers?


  3. I too read first lines in books before I buy them, Juliet. I’ve just scoured my shelves looking for one I read recently that was wonderful, but can’t quite remember what it was called…

    Like Paula I’m a bit partial to dialogue as you get an immediate feel for the characters.

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