12 lessons from great opening lines in literature

We all know we’re supposed to hook readers with the lede. How, though, do great writers inspire us?

When cranking out a story or white paper, we all know we should write a beginning that hooks people to read on.

This isn’t true only of communicators and writers. Great literature offers first lines or paragraphs that inspire and provoke readers and offer unforgettable lessons for writers.

Because communicators are a highly literate cohort, I nudged a few with emails and posted a query on the journalists’ source-seeking platform Help a Reporter Out. What, I asked, are the communications and writing lessons from first lines of famous novels and plays?

From the avalanche of responses, here are a dozen examples of lessons from enticing opening lines and passages:

1. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Takeaway: “Keep your business writing and communications simple and clear to the reader,” says Melissa Forbes, vice president of public relations at LaneTerralever. “While wordplay has its place (in famous Russian novels, for example) trying to be pithy or clever can easily distract from the ‘need-to know’-facts readers and especially reporters need.”

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