All writers want to open their story with a killer first line. What makes a great opening line? It’s not easy to define.

Some say the best first lines must encapsulate the entire theme of the story. Other say it must establish the character, time, place, and even dilemma. Others just drop us right into the action, woo us with lyricism, or make an impact with some shocking truth.

I hadn’t given much thought to my first lines. Then I attended the Virtual Writers Circle Retreat with Mollie McClure. There her guest, Jaqueline Mitchard, talked about crafting a compelling first line. I wondered, how do my first lines stack up?

I made a list of all my opening lines and discovered that only one out of ten made an impact. This was because I didn’t actively craft my opening line.

I was curious if the members of the Writers Mastermind paid close attention to their first lines and challenged them to pick out the best first lines they had ever written. I also asked them to share their favorite first lines of all time.

Here is the result of that experiment. You can see that some hint at theme, others foreshadow, while others start in the middle of a scene. Some opening lines are simply poetic and beautiful, or give us a clue to the plot or character.

Members’ Best Opening Lines

There is no night when you’re staring straight at the sun.

Josh Gardner

He awoke in a cold sweat, pulse racing, senses hyper alert – his body prepared for fight or flight.

Brenda Wilkins

The night had turned out to be the worst night in Artheena’s entire life.

Bia Bella Baker

Laughter soars to the sky.

Clennell Anthony

The coma was supposedly too deep for thought or dreams, but there was no darkness deep enough to submerge him.

Joseph Sale, Gods of the Black Gate

“I’m not me,” Kat told herself. “I’m not afraid of anything or anyone.”

Mollie McClure, Talking to the Moon

It wasn’t the end of the world, but divorce felt like it.

Dan Soule, The Ash

My mothering was a thin wall with nothing to hold it up.

David Powell

Each night, with my desk flush with the floor to ceiling glass of my high-rise apartment, I gaze at the lights beyond Orchard Road, waiting for them to twinkle out a story in some secret optic code, but when I wake up in the morning, breath like jet fuel, eyes gritty against their lids, I look at my Word doc and only see the plaintive blinking cursor.

Christa Wojciechowski

Favorite Opening Lines from Other Authors

Submitted by Dan Soule

“All this happened, more or less.”

Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a fortune is in want of a wife.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

Christmas carol by Charles Dickens

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there’s something seriously wrong somewhere. “

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Submitted by Joseph Sale

“In the eyes of the eternal Buddha, all things could be seen.”

Black Heart by Eric Van Lustbader 

Submitted by David Powell

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Submitted by Christa Wojciechowski

“Sometimes, when I’m staring down a room of Japanese stewardesses-in-training, looking across a sea of shiny black coifs, a chorus line of stockinged legs, knees together, toes to the side, when I’m chanting ‘Sir, you are endangering yourself and other passengers!,’ I think I should have let my brother stab me.”

Lost Girls and Love Hotels by Catherine Hanrahan


What is your best opening line?

What is your favorite opening line of all time?

Please reply with your picks!