You won’t be able to take your eyes off these 10 first sentences
best-first-sentences-fiction-writing-a-book

You are going to need a supernova sentence to kick off the first 10 pages of your book. To quote John Irving: “The primary function of a first sentence is to make you keep reading.”

Top lists in literature salute old favourites published (before or around 1960) when praising the best 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.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Published 1813.

What about contemporary novels?

We’ve selected the best first opening sentences* that deserve a turn in the spotlight – and discuss what a writer can learn from them.

Budge over, Austen. Hello Catton & co.

1 In which a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story. – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Published 2013.

2 Dear Franklin, I’m unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. – We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Published 2003.

3 I exist! – Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson. Published 1995.

4 My suffering left me sad and gloomy. – Life Of Pi by Yann Martel. Published 2001.

5 Nobody came to my seventh birthday party. – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Published 2013.

6 I should say that I am not a nice person. – The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. Published 2013.

7 I am doomed to remember the boy with the 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 because of Owen Meany. – A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. Published 1989.

8 Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Pivet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. – Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling. Published 1997.

9 It was the day my grandmother exploded. – The Crow Road by Iain Banks. Published 1992.

10 ‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.’ – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Published 1994.

What can we learn from the above 10-best quotes?

1 Speak to the reader. Your main character opens the novel with something to say. “I should say I’m not a nice person.”

2 Lead the reader. The opening sentence literally leads the reader into the story. This is a story about “…a stranger arrives in Hokitika; a secret council is disturbed; Walter Moody conceals his most recent memory; and Thomas Balfour begins to tell a story.”

3 Intrigue the reader. The seductive opening sentence leaves the reader wanting more, makes them ask, what’s going on here? “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Pivet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

4 Inform the reader. Hit them with a fact that garners interest. “I am doomed to remember the boy with the 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 because of Owen Meany.”

Definition, a sentence (noun) is a set of words that is complete in itself, typically containing a subject and predicate, conveying a statement, question, exclamation, or command, and consisting of a main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses.

*Based on the first sentence in chapter 1, not introductions, prologues, or quotes etc.

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