For instance, can you guess the novel from these first lines?
1. Call me Ishmael.
2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
3. Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
(If you want to match your skill against some other famous opening gambits, try this trivia link)But just as interesting (and sometimes exceptionally humorous) have been some not so great ones, which are celebrated every year by the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. This contest, in which contestants have to write the worst possible opening sentence to a non-existent novel, is now in it's 26th year. The award was named after prolific author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton who in 1830 wrote the novel "Paul Clifford" with the infamous first line "It was a dark and stormy night".
To give you some idea, the 2008 winner reads "Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."" (Garrison Spik, Washington, D.C. )
There are several genre categories. For instance in Fantasy Fiction the winner was "Toads of glory, slugs of joy," sang Groin the dwarf as he trotted jovially down the path before a great dragon ate him because the author knew that this story was a train wreck after he typed the first few words." (Alex Hall, Greeley, CO)
And the mental images of the Adventure fiction winner is an interesting one. "Leopold looked up at the arrow piercing the skin of the dirigible with a sort of wondrous dismay -- the wheezy shriek was just the sort of sound he always imagined a baby moose being beaten with a pair of accordions might make." (Shannon Wedge, New Hampshire)Check out the full list of winners and a little of the history of this contest here on the Bulwer-Lytton 2008 contest page.