10 Tantalizingly Terrible First Lines

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.

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

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.

  1. “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.”
  2. “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.”
  3. “The source of all things, the luminescence, has more forms than heaven’s stars, sure.”
  4. “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.”
  5. “Some stories are so compelling they almost seem to write themselves, but not this one.”
  6. “Yet finally the Earl’s feet were free and he then stood up holding his arms above his head.”
  7. “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.”
  8. “John thought of Kate and smiled – with any luck the tide would carry her body out to deeper water by nightfall.”
  9. “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.”
  10. “Locals know it a Pinocchio Rock, because it’s shaped like a proboscis, and lies at the edge of a cliff.”

The Answers

  1. Real:  At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald
  2. Fake: Jay C. Rosenthal Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
  3. Real: The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts
  4. Fake: Rebecca Oas Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
  5. Fake: Betsy Dorfman Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
  6. Real: The Earl Elopes by Barbara Cartland
  7. Real: A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene
  8. Fake: Tom Billings Bulwyer-Lytton Fiction Contest
  9. Real: The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  10. 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

h/t Grammarly