Hooks, lines and stinkers

cheater catOkay, I admit I’m cheating, on a couple things. First, I’m recycling some material from the webpage I maintain for my creative writing class. Second, I cheated on the title. I’m only going to talk about lines here, specifically: opening lines.

“Why not start an article about great opening lines by quoting the best ones of all time?” I asked myself and quickly followed that with a verbal back-pat: “Great idea!”

The bonus is that this concept has already been dealt with countless times, and the internet is replete with such lists. All I needed to do was plunder them and produce a number of lines for my students who would immediately think me astonishingly well-read. And erudite. And, uh, whatever.

Then I started digging into the lists. It seems there is a disturbing lack of agreement when it comes to choosing the ten “best” opening lines from several centuries worth of novel-writing. Who knew?

So, with apologies to no one, I’ve culled some lines from these various lists, and because I’m hopelessly in need of validation, I snuck in one of my own. Perhaps the class will vote on the Best. With that thought in mind, I withheld the author’s names until the end of this post. You don’t have to peek unless you want to.

dark and stormy

Alas, this opening line didn’t make anyone’s “Best” list.

1) The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. 

2) In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.

3) It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.

4) Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.

5) Sainthood required more than a massive headstone and a dozen village idiots.

6) Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

7) It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 

8) The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

9) If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. 

10) He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.


1)   The Gunslinger by Stephen King

2)   A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

3)   Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

4)   Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

5)   Under Saint Owain’s Rock by Josh Langston and B.J. Galler-Smith

6)   One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

7)   1984 by George Orwell

8)   Neuromancer by William Gibson

9)   The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

10) The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

That’s enough for this installment. Hope we’ve all learned something rare and valuable. Or if nothing else, non-fattening.


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Hooks, lines and stinkers

  1. kathils says:

    Without peaking I was drawn to numbers 2, 4, and 5. Yes, no kidding. #5 made my top three. If I had to put them in order of preference it would go 4, 5, 2.

  2. Cedric Gifford says:

    You warmed my day Josh.

  3. Debbie Liss Patton says:

    I like #1 and #2 equally. Why? Because I want to know more.

  4. Annel Martin says:

    Thanks for a reminder of .how to use lines to hook a readers attention. Of course, I know #5
    is yours.’ I’ve read and enjoy “Under Saint Owain’s Rock;” it’s a fun and enjoyable read.

  5. Amanda Rillema says:

    #’s 4 and 5 we’re my favs. I think I’ve actually been lovingly and pugnaciously drunk at least twice and who doesn’t love village idiots? Great list!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.