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Chapter 21 - Pick Up Lines


The first line of a book can make or break it. Sure, covers are important, (forget that old adage, you can't tell a book by it's cover), but that first line has to hook the reader and make him/her want to go further. The first line, if well-crafted, not only becomes iconic, but also has the reader asking questions, ruminating on the truth of the line, and setting the tone for the whole book. As Stephen King said, “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

There are some classic books whose lines are well known and often recited. These include "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." from Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. But what about modern literature? Are there any first lines which just make you want to read the book?

Well here are some first lines that have hooked me into reading to learn more.

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person." This first line in Anne Tyler's book Back When We Were Grown Ups has the reader wondering who was the woman, what had she become, and more importantly, who was she meant to be?

"The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday." Why would a letter change everything and why had it arrived on a Tuesday? The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce tells the rest of the story.

Another compelling first line is, "On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge tending the small, newly made driftwood cross." This line from The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman lets the read know there is a miracle as well as sadness in this book.

"The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house." The starting line of Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter opens up all kinds of questions for the reader. This Southern gothic novel tells the stories of two boys who grow up and have to confront the secrets they held as children.

Last but not least, who can forget this line, "Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." It's a scary line which leads the reader to the classic Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, a book that brings joy, humor and sadness to the reader.

Do you have any favorite first lines? Please share!

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