Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I’ve taken entire workshops on opening lines. That’s first sentences of a story, not bar pick-up lines, although they probably have more in common than writers want to believe. Lots of book buyers open to the first page and read the opening when deciding whether to buy the book. If you’re considering buying an e-book or even a paper book online, most sites allow you to download or read a sample. Regardless of genre—literary works seem to be immune to this issue—the author’s job is to hook the reader in the first line, paragraph and page or risk losing a sale. Sad but true. First lines can be magic or death. 
I came across an article on the online version of the Stylist magazine in the UK called THE BEST 100 OPENING LINES FROM BOOKS.   Naturally, I had to investigate what they were.  Hey, these were the best first lines of all time!! The books covered an amazing range of works from classics like Moby Dick and A Tale of Two Cities to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bridget Jones Diary. And, yes, I read those openers one by one.
 As I read, I considered which lines would have compelled me to plop down $14.99 in a bookstore to read the rest. The answer was, not many. Naturally given my long history as an avid reader and my BA in literature, I’ve read a surprising percentage of the books named for reasons other than their first lines. But were these all hooks? Not for me.  
Of course, the all time classic first line in romance is from Jane Austen's  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  And so a genre was born.
I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips is absolutely brilliant at first lines so I’m going to share a few I find irresistible. 
If Annabelle hadn’t found a body lying under “Sherman,” she wouldn’t have been late for her appointment with the Python.— MATCH ME IF YOU CAN 
It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger than life world. -- NATURAL BORN CHARMER  (This is my all time favorite SEP book!)
 Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral.IT HAD TO BE YOU
There are so many other authors and opening sentences I love, I could go on for pages, but I’d rather hear from you. Do you have any first lines you love? What about them them hooked you? Please share!!!


Sarah Andre said...

What fun! Although truth be told, I judge after a few paragraphs (still way too short, I know, but my life is speeding by and I can't waste time plowing thru boring novels anymore.)

My favs are usually from romantic comedy author, Kristin Higgins:
"Making up a boyfriend is nothing new for me." TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

"I'm a stalker--the good kind." FOOLS RUSH IN

"Falling in love with a Catholic priest was not my smartest move."

In RS, my Kiss and Thrill blog partner, Lena Diaz has 2 terrific books:
"Fear has a smell--sharp, tangy, with a biting edge--like sweat, but more intimate, more powerful and addictive than any drug." SIMON SAYS DIE

"The sweet music of her screams echoed in his mind as he inhaled the lavender-scented shampoo he'd selected for her."

Thanks for the link to the 100 Greatest, I'll wander over today for inspiration.

Lark Howard said...

I love Kristin Higgins, Sarah! I've read TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE and now will download the others as well.

Lena Diaz's opening lines are great hooks. I'll check out her books too! Thanks!!!

Lena Diaz said...

Thanks Sarah and Lark! I'm so glad you enjoyed my first lines. And I love this blog subject. So fun! One of my favorite authors who has brilliant first lines is Alyssa Day. Here is her first line from VAMPIRE IN ATLANTIS: "Daniel looked out at the sea of red eyes glaring back at him in the vast oak-and-marble chamber of the Primus and wondered, not for the first time, why the hell he'd ever wanted to be the ruleheld the North American vampires."

Lena Diaz said...

Ruleheld should have been ruler of!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love this topic...I agree, SEP has some of the best first liners! Jennifer Crusie has some really good ones too!

Anonymous said...

Like Sarah, I don't judge a book by it's first line, but rather, the first couple of paragraph.

A great first line can really set the tone of the story, too!

Great post, Lark!

Lark Howard said...

Loved your first lines, Lena! Can't wait to read the rest of these books!

Lark Howard said...

I love Jennifer Cruisie's books,too, Tess. They're always so fun and witty.

Lark Howard said...

Hi, Jenn. I read the first page, not just the first line, as well. But a brilliant first line generally does set the tone and sticks with me.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Why oh why don't I write down my favorite first lines? (Count me as another SEP and Crusie fan, by the way.) Lee Child's first paragraphs always grab my attention. Here's the first paragraph from ONE SHOT:

Great topic, Lark!

Lark Howard said...

Hey, Pat! Apparently your link or paste didn't work. Blogger seems to be a bit quirky that way.

Lee Child writes some on the best first pages. He manages to capture time, place and character brilliantly with a few well chosen sentences that always hook me in.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Gah! Maybe Blogger thinks I should be looking closer to home for great first sentences and paragraphs. Colleen Thompson's always terrify me--in a good way. Suzan Harden already gave a shout-out to the first sentence in William Simon's short story, Spider's Tango. Here it is again:

Here's a piece of advice you won't find in any manual, leaflet, monograph, self-help book, or national talk show: when an agent with the FBI's Violent Crimes Unit opens an email, then spends the next ten minutes vomiting in the men's room, do not, under any circumstances, lean across the desk and look at the screen. . .

That short story is in Love Is Murder/Thriller 3.

Okay, Lena's lines, Alyssa Day's, Will's, the memory of Colleen's BENEATH BONE LAKE now have me so jittery, I've got to turn on more lights--and find my blankie.

Lark Howard said...

Will's opener is fabulous, isn't it, Pat? I thoroughly enjoyed his story!

Louise Behiel said...

these are great but I have to admit I am usually oblivious to them