Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Irresistible Opening Lines

Irresistible Opening Lines

Want to snag your readers’ attention? The key is often the very first sentence because that’s where many readers decide to read on or to put your piece aside.
In his book “Hooked,” Les Edgerton asks: “What should be in an opening line? Anything that provokes the reader into reading the second sentence.”

Great beginnings, he says on pages 167 and 168, have “mystery, intrigue, shock, or a revealing glimpse of an interesting and original character that promises excitement or some other strong emotion to come—whatever.”

The first sentence usually presents a question your reader wants answered. It serves as a gateway into your fiction so make sure it grabs your readers’ interest.

Here are 13 Opening Lines that grabbed me:

1) “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1967)

2) “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (1984, George Orwell, 1949)

3) “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone 84 days now without taking a fish.” (The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, 1952)

4) “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” (David Copperfield,Charles Dickens, 1850)

5) “All children, except one, grow up.” (Peter Pan, JM Barrie, 1911)

6) “I became what I am today at the age of 12, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” (The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, 2003)

7) “We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.” (Darker Than Amber, John D MacDonald, 1966)

8) We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. (Tracks, Louise Erdrich, 1988)

9) “You better not never tell nobody but God.” (The Color Purple, Alice Walker, 1982)

10) “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was 14 when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” (The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold, 2002)

11) “ It was the day my grandmother exploded.” (The Crow Road, Iain Banks, 1992)

12) “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.” (Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut, 1973)

13) “Besides the neutral expression she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings.” (Good Country People [from A Good Man is Hard to Find],Flannery O’Connor, 1955)

If you want to find more great first sentences, many Websites feature beginning lines. One I recommend is On this site you can actually vote for the openings you like best.

If you want to try your skill at creating a terrific first sentence, check out
Did you know the Smoky Mountain Romance Writers run a contest dubbed, “The Dandy Line” contest? Entry is free and the contest lasts about a month.

And if you need help crafting great openings, read “Hooked.” Edgerton, Les -- Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Reader at Page One and Never Lets Them Go, Writer’s Digest Books, 2007

Or if you’d rather just share your favorite opening with me, please quote it in the comments. Thanks.


  1. That was a fun site, if a bit of a time-sink. :)

    Opening lines I find irresistible:
    "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault." --Blood Rites by Jim Butcher.

    "It rained toads the day the White Council came to town." --Summer Knight by Jim Butcher.

    "She woke in the body of a dead friend." --Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts.

    "It's hard to meet nice guys when you sell sex toys for a living." --Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday.

  2. These are great. Once I find a good first line, the rest comes easy. I can just jump off from there. Seems the first line has to intrigue but also sum up the book.

    Ending lines are important too. How about Jitterbug Perfume's ..indigo ... indigoing .... indigone.

  3. Darla,
    I like Jim Butcher. That's a great opening line and a fun book. Thanks.

  4. Colleen,
    You bring up a good point. Maybe I'll have to blog on ending lines one of these days.

  5. Ironically, the opening lines I like best are from books I've never heard of.

  6. Those were so interesting to read!

  7. Great list and a very enjoyable read.

  8. Excellent list! I saw more than a few I completely agree with you on... and thought of a few myself... Might have to steal this idea from you (with credit, of course!)

  9. Great opening lines, great writers, great books! The opening lines website is a bit addictive.. :)
    My TT is about online purchases.

  10. Happy TT and I remember #6...

  11. Gotta love those first lines! They sure know how to grab your attention. *wg*

  12. Great opening lines. Its definitely important to capture the readers interest right from the start.

  13. Great list. Some authors can grab you from the first line!

  14. Neat idea for a 13! It's so true, isn't it how the perfect first line can really grab you and draw you in? These are all really great examples.

  15. Great list...I can see why:) Happy TT and thanks for stopping by.

  16. All so true! Those first lines make or break a book for me--after the cover and title!

  17. Those opening lines definitely grab you from the get-go!

  18. Those are great opening lines. Thanks for sharing. :)

  19. Thanks for the further education. Now...if I could just come up with a good one for my WIP. Or really...decide where it should begin. :)