A great first line can take on a life of its own. Even if you haven’t read the book, I bet you know that “It was the best of times it was the worst of times…” is the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
A strong opening can be important. But sometimes authors try too hard to make that first impression. As a reader, does it stop you in your tracks?
On the other hand, terrible first lines are fun to read. There is even a competition which invites contributors to give it their best, or worst, shot. It’s called the Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest after Sir Edward Bulwyer-Lytton, the writer responsible for penning “It was a dark and stormy night…”, the opening line of his novel Paul Clilfford.
Real Terrible Verses Fake Terrible
Here are 10 tantalizingly terrible first lines – five real and five fake. Take a look and see if you can guess which is which. Scroll down to find the authors.
- “It must have been 1963, because the musical of Dombey & Son was running at the Alexandra, and it must have been the autumn, because it was surely sometime in October that a performance was seriously delayed because two of the cast had slipped and hurt themselves in B dressing-room corridor, and the reason for that was that the floor appeared to be flooded with something sticky and glutinous.”
- “As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in the echo chamber he would never hear the end of it.”
- “The source of all things, the luminescence, has more forms than heaven’s stars, sure.”
- “Ronald left this world as he entered it: on a frigid winter night among frantic screams and blood soaked linens while relatives stood close by and muttered furious promises to find and punish the man responsible.”
- “Some stories are so compelling they almost seem to write themselves, but not this one.”
- “Yet finally the Earl’s feet were free and he then stood up holding his arms above his head.”
- “The cabin-passenger wrote in his diary a parody of Descartes: “I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive,” then sat pen in hand with no more to record.”
- “John thought of Kate and smiled – with any luck the tide would carry her body out to deeper water by nightfall.”
- “Ho, Diomed, well met! Do you sup with Glaucus to-night?” said a young man of small stature, who wore his tunic in those loose and effeminate folds which proved him to be a gentleman and a coxcomb.”
- “Locals know it a Pinocchio Rock, because it’s shaped like a proboscis, and lies at the edge of a cliff.”
- Real: At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald
- Fake: Jay C. Rosenthal Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
- Real: The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts
- Fake: Rebecca Oas Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
- Fake: Betsy Dorfman Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
- Real: The Earl Elopes by Barbara Cartland
- Real: A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene
- Fake: Tom Billings Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
- Real: The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
- Fake: John Holmes Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
Has a dud first line ever stopped you reading further?
Youtube Channel: George Hulseman
Featured image via the author