Pickup Lines

Gone With the Wind Movie Poster

David O Selznick ignored Mitchell’s first line.

Yesterday I saw a silly pickup line on the internet. You say to someone, “You smell upsexy.” Then the person responds, “What’s upsexy?” And then you reply, “Not much. What’s up with you, sexy?” I thought I’d try it out on my husband that evening, just for laughs. So that night, I say, “You smell upsexy.” He looks at me like I’m crazy and then responds, “What does that mean?” Well, there goes my joke–although I actually laughed harder at my script’s going awry than I did at the actual joke.

What does a lame pickup line have to do with writing? Only this: I challenge you to think of the first line of your novel or story as a pickup line. Except not a lame one, of course. One that will get readers’ attention and make them want more…just as a pickup line is supposed to get someone’s attention and entice him/her into a larger conversation.

One of my all-time favorite first lines is from Gone with the Wind.

Many people believe that the enduring power of Gone with the Wind lies in its characterization of the heroine and/or the complexity of the love triangle. While all that is good stuff, consider the first part of the book’s irresistible first line: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it….”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Hollywood overlooked this first line when they cast the gorgeous Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. And while I can’t imagine any other actress in that role thanks to Leigh’s outstanding performance, I think the first few words of the book have a great deal to do with the novel’s power. Scarlett, though attractive, was not so beautiful that she didn’t have to rely on her wits to get what she wanted. And ultimately, it is her charm and cunning that drive the novel’s plot. I think every woman on the planet would like to know the secret Mitchell teases at in that first line. You mean this woman Scarlett wasn’t a beauty but somehow she made people think she was? How’d she do it? Can she teach me how to do the same thing? Hasn’t this promise in some form or another been a cover tease on every women’s magazine cover every month for the last…forever?

What’s your favorite first line and why?




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