Reader Friday: First Lines

We haven’t asked this question in a while.

What’s your favorite first line of a novel, novella, or short story?

What’s your favorite first line of a movie?

What’s the best first line you’ve ever written?

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About Sue Coletta

Member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and ITW, Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer of psychological thrillers. She also writes true crime: PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND hits bookstores by Nov. 1, 2020 (Globe Pequot, trade division of Rowman & Littlefield). Feedspot & honored Sue's blog with the Top 100 Crime Blogs on the Net award (Murder Blog sits at #5). Learn more about Sue and her books at

34 thoughts on “Reader Friday: First Lines

  1. 1. Cheating just a little (not from a novel), from “On the Quai at Smyrna,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway: “The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight.”

    2. Cheating a little more (not from the opening of the movie), from Red, “If there’s one thing I know, it’s women and black ops.”
    “That’s two things.”
    “No, Grasshopper, it isn’t.”

    3. From my novel, Confessions of a Professional Psychopath, “Of the three wingback chairs in my library, only one is upholstered in human skin. Thereโ€™s a reason for that.”

    ๐Ÿ™‚ What fun! Good post, Sue.

  2. 1. From What the Hell Did I Just Read? by David Wong: It rained like we were a splatter of bird shit God was trying to hose off his deck.

    2. From Star Trek Into Darkness when McCoy yelled at Kirk for shooting their getaway creature: “Dammit, man, that was our ride!”

    3. From my short story Passover: On day three, the rats scatter Sheriff Nolanโ€™s remains (and the contents of his pockets) enough so I can reach through the bars and snag the key to the antiquated jail cell.

  3. Favorite first line in a novel: “A whisper in my ear: Wake!” (“Havah” by Tosca Lee)

    Favorite first line in a movie: This is embarrassing, but I went through all of my favorite movies, and I can’t remember any first lines! ๐Ÿ™ The closest I can come is the first line (I think) of “Last of the Mohicans”, but the line was spoken in native language-to the fresh meat they’d just killed. Something like, “thank you for dying for us so we can eat…”

    Best first line I’ve ever written (IMHO, of course!): “She couldn’t believe this would be the last thing her eyes would see on this earth.” (From “God on the Cross”, Chapter 5 of “Who Are These People, Book One”, a collection of short stories.)

    Looking forward to reading all y’all’s comments…(that’s Texan for “everyone’s”, in case you were wondering.) And no, I live in the PNW…

  4. All the above are great choices.

    My contributions:

    “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it”. The Princes Bride by William Goldman.

    โ€œIn frenzied excitement, he eats up the ground. He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength and charges into the fray, afraid of nothing, when the trumpet sounds.โ€ (Excerpt from Job 39: 21-25) From Secretariat

    “Maizie Gasko lay alone in the dilapidated room, helpless and terrified, praying for mercy from a God she had not spoken to for most of her life.” From my third novel in my Lions and Lambs series, The Lion, the Lily, and the Lamb.

  5. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

    “Rosebud.” (Citizen Kane)

    The nun hit me in the mouth and said, “Get out of my house.” (Try Darkness)

  6. * From my own (accepted, not yet scheduled) novel, Night of the Nokozjumi:

    It’s strange what you think about when you’re running across the sands of the Afghanistan desert to kill someone.

    * From the prologue of Tom Clancy’s novel, Debt of Honor:

    In retrospect, it would seem a strange way to start a war.

    The second line of the prologue would have also been a good way to start the novel: Only one of the participants knew what was really happening, and even that was a coincidence.

  7. I recently picked this up via Elizabeth George’s book, WRITE AWAY:

    From Poe’s, The Cask of Amontillado,

    “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but
    when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.”

    It really does encapsulate the story perfectly.

    I couldn’t judge my best first line, but one of my favorites is:

    “Bug Man, Bug Man, who came to save me from the spiders.”

    From When I Make Love to the Bug Man.

  8. I’ve cited this one often here but my favorite is from Charlotte’s Web: โ€œ’Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern.โ€

    It’s the classic “kid” book that I read again and again. But it could be something from Thomas Harris or Stephen King. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My own books aren’t big on really killer opening lines. It usually takes me a full graph to get going. But I do like this one from “Heart of Ice” : โ€œHe was staring at the frozen lake and thinking about his mother lying on a table somewhere screaming in pain.”

    I always liked it because it refers to, as we find out three graphs later, not that his mother was murdered but died giving him birth. And his birth date is important because it turned out it made him no. 1 in the draft day lottery 18 years later that sent him to Vietnam. And if she had held out two more minutes, he wouldn’t have gone to war.

  9. So many wonderful choices already!

    “Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.” – Elmore Leonard in “Freaky Deaky.”

    “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” – Patton

    “From paper doll princess to rich daddy’s girl, she waltzed across Texas in a fairy-tale world.” – “Diamonds To Dust” song lyric:

    • One of my favorite lines was written by Larry Brooks. “All things considered, it was a great night to die.”

      Hmm, can’t think of a movie reference.

      As for my novels, I like the simple opening line of MARRED: Even the weather betrayed me.

  10. The perennial favorite of many: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. โ€”Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

    You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. โ€”Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

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