Opening Lines: A First Impression

large_open_bookIn a recent Huffington Post Blog, author Mark Rubinstein, talks about the power the opening sentences of a novel have to grab the reader and pull them into the story.

With examples from authors as diverse as Charles Dickens and David Morrell, we see how they structured their opening lines to make us want to read on.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the craft of novel writing and just how important a good opening is in making that first impression, not only in enticing your readers, but also in setting the premise of the story to come.

Some of my favorite first few sentences are from the novel BACKSEAT SAINTS by Joshilyn Jackson, the story of a young woman who’s finding her way back to herself.

“It was an airport gypsy who told me that I had to kill my husband. She may have been the first to say the words out loud, but she was only giving voice to a thing I’d been trying not to know for a long, long time.”

I read on, curious to find out whom the protagonist was and if she was really going to do the deed, why. I won’t tell you here, but I think you’d find it fun to read the book.

Here are a few sentences from a novel I’m working on, OUT OF TIME. It features
Nick Donahue, the protagonist from the novella, NICK OF TIME.

“Just ask Marina.
If you want to know how I wound tethered like a sacrificial goat to a flimsy spire swaying
in the wind on top of the world’s tallest building, maybe she can explain it.
Because I definitely can’t.”

How about you? Any first sentences that drew you in? Or, any that you’re working on?
We’d love to know.

7 thoughts on “Opening Lines: A First Impression

  1. Cathi, good topic. I grabbed the top book from the pile next to my bed and came up with this one from Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain:

    “Considered severally,” said Troy, coming angrily into the studio, “a carbuncle, a month’s furlough and a husband returning from the antipodes don’t sound like the ingredients for a hell-brew.”

    What grabs me here is the heightened emotion and a character who can come up with that definition of hell. (I’ll cheat by giving the second sentence: “Collectively, they amount to precisely that.”)

  2. Thanks, Cathi, it is a worthwhile discussion. My favorites are Gabriel Garcia Marquez in A Hundred Years of Solitude:

    “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember the distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

    To me the first sentence is a promise to deliver the rest of the book in the same manner.

    The popular Tolstoy lead, “All happy families resemble one anther, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina is considered his best work. It’s a theme lead and you could argue with the theme, but it’s a great lead. “Everything was upset in the Oblonskys’ household.” That’s the second sentence.

  3. I’ve always been partial to the opening of The Great Gatsby. Nick, as the narrator: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” I immediately liked Nick. The father’s advice? “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you had.” I’ve often recalled that advice.

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