Traded trivia about memorable movie quotes the other night—favorites, some of which others instantly knew. Can you match these lines to their movies?

“It was beauty killed the beast.”
“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.”

I thought of classic book leads in fiction—opening lines that capture readers. Authors search for just the right words to draw readers. Yes, titles and covers are what a potential readers first glimpse, but once they open to the first page…what then? I’ve listed some gems among the best.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”   Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar

“All this happened, more or less.” Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

These openings have stood the test of time. Trying to give a reader a hint of what’s to come, style, and mastery of words is a challenge. Brevity, as you can see from the quotes above, works, but then, a string of words that is music to the ear is another way to entice readers. Shock is one tactic, but should be used sparingly so its effect is not diluted. I always read a book’s lead. If the writer has done their job I read further…if not, I close the book and look elsewhere. More often than not, my instincts are right. You can’t judge a book solely by its cover, but you can certainly help your decision by reading a lead.

(Movies: The original King Kong, On The Waterfront and Citizen Kane)

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