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Favorite Novel Openings

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I’m teaching a course online for ACFW this month on Hooking the Reader. We’ve started by talking about opening lines/hooks.

Here are the opening lines from my books:

Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.
Stand-In Groom

“Happy New Year!”
. . . .Her thirty-fourth New Year and still no kiss at the stroke of midnight . . . or any other day or time.
Menu for Romance

“You did what?”
. . . .Forbes Guidry sank into the tall-backed leather chair, extremities numb, and stared at the couple sitting across the desk from him.
A Case for Love

William Ransome pulled the collar of his oilskin higher, trying to stop the rain from dribbling down the back of his neck.
Ransome’s Honor

A scream of agony bubbled up in Charlotte’s chest, but she stopped it before it could escape.
–Prologue, Ransome’s Crossing

No moon. Wispy clouds hid most of the stars. He could not have asked for a more perfect night. Before him, the house glowed like a lantern atop the hill. Behind him, his men waited for his command.
–Prologue, Ransome’s Quest

The sharks were circling.
. . . .Bobby Patterson had been at the party a total of three minutes. But half that time was all it took for the smell of fresh blood to circulate amongst the single women.
Love Remains

I don’t usually like my first lines/opening chapters when I first write them. I agonize over them. I tweak them. I rewrite several versions. I tweak them some more. So it surprised me when the opening lines of Love Remains came to me as clearly as they did and that I loved them as much as I did.

Now, here are some of my favorite opening lines from classic literature:

All children, except one, grow up.
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
1984 by George Orwell

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a giant insect.
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

It was a dark and stormy night.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Call me Ishmael.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

One thing was certain, that the WHITE kitten had had nothing to do with it:—it was the black kitten’s fault entirely.
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

When Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville Chase, every one told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no doubt at all that the place was haunted.
The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

What are some of your favorite opening lines of novels?

  1. Susan Davis permalink
    Tuesday, April 6, 2010 9:30 am

    Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater starts out: I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

    The Mist by Carla Neggers starts out: Lizzie Rush tensed at her table by the fire, watching out of the corner of her eye as a tall, fair-haired man entered the small village pub, shutting the door firmly against the gale-force wind and steady rain that had been lashing the southwest Irish coast for hours.

    Dingo by Charles de Lint starts out: No one likes to think it of their father, but there are days when I can’t help but feel that somehow I got stuck with the biggest loser of all loser dads.

    Second Glance by Jodi Picoult starts out: Ross Wakeman succeeded the first time he killed himself, but not the second or the third.

    The Sunflower by Richard Paul Evans starts out: Going to the jungle wasn’t my idea. Had the thought actually crossed my mind, I would have immediately relegated it to that crowded portion of my brain where things I should do someday but thankfully never will are safely locked away to languish and die.


    • Audry permalink
      Tuesday, April 6, 2010 2:10 pm

      “Ross Wakeman succeeded the first time he killed himself, but not the second or the third.”

      now there’s a first line that makes me want to keep reading, at least for a couple pages… even though I know her books are always disturbing!


  2. Tuesday, April 6, 2010 10:27 am

    Although I agree that first lines are important for hooking the reader, I think they’re overrated. I never remember them. Ever. They are temporal, ushering me into the story. I do remember story, though. If a story is good, I’ll remember it but have no clue what the first line was.


  3. Audry permalink
    Tuesday, April 6, 2010 11:12 am

    One of my favorite beginnings isn’t actually the first line, but it is on the first page:

    There are plenty of people, in Avonlea and out of it, who can attend closely to their neighbors’ business by dint of neglecting their own; but Mrs. Rachel Lynde was one of those capable creatures who can manage their own concerns and those of other folks into the bargain.

    – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

    ha, that line always cracks me up 😀


  4. Tuesday, April 6, 2010 1:05 pm

    I love Pride & Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, and Little Women’s first lines.

    Here is another one of my faves (I was in love with this book when I was a child):

    ‘When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.’ The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


  5. Michelle permalink
    Tuesday, April 6, 2010 1:30 pm

    You’ve mentioned most of my favorites, but I have to add these:

    “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell


  6. Lori C permalink
    Tuesday, April 6, 2010 3:37 pm

    “The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.”

    -Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness


  7. Tuesday, April 6, 2010 6:52 pm

    “A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where, a decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying monument to the nation’s glory and his own vanity.”–The Scarlet Pimpernel

    “There once lived, in a sequestered part of the county of Devonshire, one Mr Godfrey Nickleby: a worthy gentleman, who, taking it into his head rather late in life that he must get married, and not being young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her turn had taken him for the same reason. Thus two people who cannot afford to play cards for money, sometimes sit down to a quiet game for love.”–Nicholas Nickleby

    “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. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”–Great Expectations

    “Eat and leave. That’s all she had to do. If Grandma didn’t kill her first for being late.”–Sushi for One?

    “When single people pack up to relocate, they often have a dog. With deliberate caution, they load cardboard boxes into the car, along with a few framed wall pictures, a blender, one or two trusty saucepans, and a tightly rolled sleeping bag. The dog jumps onto the passenger seat, the driver lowers the window a few inches, and as the car slowly backs out of the driveway, the canine shoves his twitching nose over the glass. When the car picks up speed, the wind ruffles the dog’s fur and he opens his mouth as if to lap up the fresh air with his tongue. This animal is as carefree as the day he was born. All he has to do is tilt his head, breathe deeply, and enjoy the ride. No tedious job of consulting the creased road map. No watching road signs. No making conversation. He didn’t earn the title of ‘man’s best friend’ due to any special skills in flattery. I, however, do not have a dog.”–How Sweet it Is

    “Laney McCain fought the urge to lick her fingers. The Fry’s chocolate bar had come all the way from England, and it seemed wrong to waste even a dab of something so wonderful.”–Bittersweet

    “I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare—or if not, it’s some equally brainy bird—who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping. And what I’m driving is that the man is completely right.”—Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest

    “I used to dream. But now it’s as if the TV in my mind has been turned off and a blank screen waits for me when I fall asleep at night. At least I’m not having nightmares. But I’m afraid the bulb has simply burned out.” –Elvis Takes a Back Seat

    And the opening of my current WIP…

    “Fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents for a book is a rip-off price on a normal day. And of all days, Robert Laurie’s new book, ‘Through Fire and Blood’ has to come out on the day I’m laid off.”


  8. Judy permalink
    Tuesday, April 6, 2010 7:39 pm

    “One dollar and eighty seven cents. That was all.” The Gift of the Magi, O.Henry.

    Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a book.


  9. Tuesday, April 6, 2010 8:19 pm

    “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

    This was an exercise in a writing workshop I attended a year or so ago at my library. The instructor had us to go into the library and find favorite first lines. I thought of this one right off.

    Thanks for including the one from “Rebecca.” One of my all-time favorites!


  10. beckycastlemiller permalink
    Tuesday, April 6, 2010 9:41 pm

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”


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