1. Call me Ishmael. - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)________________________________
2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
3. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. - Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
4. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)
5. I am an invisible man. - Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
6. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. —Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler (1979; trans. William Weaver)
7. 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 house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. - Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
8. For a long time, I went to bed early. - Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (1913; trans. Lydia Davis)
9. It was a pleasure to burn. - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
10. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. - Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)
I took these from a site that listed the 100 best first lines from novels.
So, you are writing a novel. A short story. Something fiction. You must have a first line. Do you panic? Do you just write it and not care? Do you run around reading blog posts and writing books about first sentences? First paragraphs? First pages? First chapters? First novels? Do you freak out about firsts?
I think many of us worry so much about these firsts because we feel we must snag an agent or publisher with them. Everything hangs on them. Our queries must be perfect. Our partials must be perfect.
Well, let me tell you something. After judging entries in college for the literary journal, and then for Genre Wars, and then my own short story contest, and then Notes from Underground, I can honestly say that I don't think writers should worry so much about those dreaded firsts. As a reader judging entries for publication, I don't open up the entry, read the first line or paragraph, and just stop or move on from there. I always keep reading. I read until I get a sense of what the writer's style is, how strong of a writer they are, if the story is headed anywhere interesting (to me!). It differs for every piece, but I can tell within the first few minutes of reading (or hour if I'm reading a novel) whether or not the piece is going to work for me. It has nothing to do with the first sentence or paragraph - it is everything pulling together. And more often than not, I will read the entire piece before making a decision.
What writers, including myself, should worry about is telling a good story. If the first line is vague, it doesn't matter. It won't end up on the 100 best first lines of the century. So what? Actually, I think all those great first lines up there aren't up there because the lines are so fantastic so much as the stories themselves are fantastic.
Besides, if you put so much darned effort into your firsts and not the same amount of effort into the rest of your story, you're going to have problems with the rest of the story. I've read one too many of these examples. Great, fantastic, blow-me-away first lines and paragraphs and pages, but then it all falls apart from there. This may partly be why many writers get requests for fulls from partials only to receive rejections.
And trust me, I've been through the first-trauma myself one too many times. It has only been lately that I've realized I need to stop worrying so much about it.