How many times have you written your opening lines? I have written every one of mine several times and still shake my head and wonder if I’ve captured the right moment. Your opening lines are your introduction to your editor. They should convince them you know what you’re talking about. These carefully chosen words should immediately launch your readers into your story.
Since opening lines are the first words the readers see. They should grab the readers attention, tantalize them, set the conflict and tone right away and make them want more. They should make a statement right out of the gate. You want your readers to clutch your book and make a dash to the check out counter.
Where should you begin? Start with something fresh and original. Introduce a theme. Jump into the scene with action. Introduce your personal writing style. Don’t be boring, passive, or wordy. Be honest with your readers in what you’re writing. Don’t lie to them.
Here are a few opening paragraphs.
1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.
2. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Angel pushed the canvas flap back just enough to look out at the mud street. She shivered in the cold afternoon air, that carried with it the stench of disenchantment.
Pair-a-Dice lay in the Mother Lode of California. It was the worst place she could have imagined, a shanty town of golden dreams built out of rotting sails from abandoned ships, a camp inhabited by outcasts and aristocrats, the displaced and dispossessed, the once-pampered and now-profane. Canvas-roofed bars and gambling houses lined mean streets ruled by unmasked depravity and greed, loneliness and grand illusions. Pair-a-dice was wild jubilation. It wed black despair with fear and the foul taste of failure.
3. The secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitch zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.
I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam.
4. The Loop by Nicholas Evans
The scent of slaughter, some believe, can linger in a place for years. They say it lodges in the soil and is slowly sucked through coiling roots so that in time all that grows there, from the smallest lichen to the tallest tree, bears testimony.
Perhaps as he moved silently down through the forest on that late afternoon, his summer-sleek back brushing low limbs of pine and fir, the wolf sensed it. And perhaps the vestige of a rumor in his nostrils, that here a hundred years ago so many of his kind were killed, should have make him turn away.
Yet on and down he went.
5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.
In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn’t happen.
6. Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
My mother did not tell me they were coming. Afterwards she said she did not want me to appear nervous. I was surprised, for I thought she knew me well. Strangers would think I was calm. I did not cry as a baby. Only my mother would note the tightness along my jaw, the widening of my already wide eyes.
I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen when I heard voices outside our front door–a woman’s bright as polished brass and a man’s low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and fur.
What do you believe the opening lines in a book should accomplish? Which opening lines from above grabbed you and immediately pulled you into the story and which ones didn’t? What did you like or dislike about these opening paragraphs? Share the first paragraph of a favorite book if you wish and tell us what you like and/or didn’t like.