The trick to a good first line is to hook the reader instantly, and demand questions that he or she wants answered. "Once there was a girl" is a waste of space since it offers so little information, and of that, none is interesting, peculiar, or compelling.
Here's an online contest with plenty of memorable first lines
First lines of children's books
The 100 best first lines
Great opening (and closing) film lines
Famous First Lines:
Can you figure out where these lines originate?
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a giant insect.
Call me Ishmael.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plains of North America.
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended.
Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
It was Wang Lung's marriage day.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
1801-- I have just returned from a visit to my landlord -- the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with.
My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.
He rode into our valley in the summer of '89.
A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
Buck did not read the newspapers or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.
It was a pleasure to burn.
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 ****, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
All children, except one, grow up.
It was not that Omri didn't appreciate Patrick's birthday present to him.
Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity --- Good.
In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy.
When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse.
Not long ago, there lived in London a young married couple of Dalmatian dogs named Pongo and Misses Pongo.
These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket.
There was a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always.
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
For many days we had been tempest-tossed.
The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.
In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon.
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice "without pictures or conversation?"
Once on a dark winter's day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares.
A mouse was looking at Mario.
The mouse's name was Tucker, and he was sitting in the opening of an abandoned drain pipe in the subway station at Times Square.
I expect I might as well begin by telling you about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle so that whenever I mention her name, which I do very often in this book, you will not interrupt and ask, "Who is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle?"
Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.
His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam.
My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male.
Like a glowing jewel, the city lay upon the breast of the desert. Once it had known change and alteration, but now time passed it by. Night and day fled across the desert's face, but in Diaspar it was always afternoon, and darkness never came.
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scru- tinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
And now the bad ones...
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
In honor of this man's convoluted and impossible opening, each year the Bulwer-Lytton contest competes to create the worst first line ever. Check out the dishonorable winners today!