Posted by: Phil Anderson | October 11, 2015

First Words

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” — Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

The first lines of any story are said to be very important. They give the reader a sense of what to expect. They might introduce characters, setting, mood, tone, voice, or all of the above. They are sometimes called “the hook,” which implies that if a reader isn’t immediately captivated within the first paragraph they are likely to give up and not continue reading.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, named after the man who wrote one of the most famous opening lines in a novel (quoted above), challenges entrants to compose only the first sentence of a very bad novel.


Trying to create something fascinating and compelling that will enthrall an audience so that they continue to read is a daunting challenge. Here are some of my attempts, from actual stories that I’ve written (or am writing):

Dave Adams sulked as he leaned back against the wall.

“Maelo, would you please help me get dinner on the table?”

Neither of them could remember exactly when or precisely how the feud started, and they didn’t care.

The air rang with the chime of blade against steel, the erratic drumbeat of horses’ hooves, and the shrill descant of frightened whinnying.

“And now, bring out the minstrel!”

“Good morning.” Sarah kissed her father’s warm, whiskery cheek and set a piping bowl of porridge on the wooden table in front of him.

Arned whistled and marched down the lane.

Disappointingly, none of these really stand out to me, but what do you think? Do any of them make you want to read more? Can you share a memorable opening line that caught your attention? Can you (or do you) judge a book by its first few lines? Leave your comments below.

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