19 of literature’s best first lines

Reading others’ words can often bring inspiration to your own writing. One editor shares her favorite opening lines from famous works.

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I recently reorganized my books.

As I took the titles off the shelves, dusted and reordered them, I was struck by how much I had loved reading them. It was like spending time with every friend I ever had.

Whenever I find myself struggling with a writing project, I turn to fiction for inspiration. By revisiting all the books I love to read, I found inspiration in their opening lines—enough to get me through any writing project.

Here are several of my favorites:

1. The music-room in the Governor’s House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli’s C major quartet.
“Master and Commander” by Patrick O’Brian

2. Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

3. “So now get up.”
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard.
“Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel

4. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
“1984” by George Orwell

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