Opening Lines

12 Ways to Start a Novel

First lines. We all obsess over our novel’s first lines, and rightly so, because from it the rest of the story must flow naturally and without a pause. Here are 10 strategies to use on first lines for your novel. I’ve illustrated them with the “100 Best Lines from Novels,” as chosen by the editors of the American Book Review. The number at the beginning of each quoted line indicates its position in the Best 100 List. This was inspired by an article by Susan Lumenello, “The Promise of the First Line,” (The Writer’s Chronicle, Volume 38, Number 3, December 2005. 57-59).

    It was. . .

  1. It is. . .
    This is. . .
    These openings give a writer freedom and flexibility because anything can come after these words: abstract images, a synopsis, a setting, etc. To the reader, this opening signals authority. The possible downside is over familiarity with the opening, so that it reads as a cliche.

    Quote Author Title Year
    2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice 1813
    8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell 1984 1949
    9. 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. Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities 1859
    18. This is the saddest story I have ever heard. Ford Madox Ford The Good Soldier 1915
    22. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton Paul Clifford 1830
    24. It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. Paul Auster City of Glass 1985
    26. 124 was spiteful. Toni Morrison Beloved 1987
    35. It was like so, but wasn’t. Richard Powers Galatea 2.2 1995
    49. It was the day my grandmother exploded. Iain M. Banks The Crow Road 1992
    53. It was a pleasure to burn. Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 1953
    59. It was love at first sight. Joseph Heller Catch-22 1961
    67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar 1963
    86. It was just noon that Sunday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole county too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man. William Faulkner Intruder in the Dust 1948
  2. Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
    Learn 6 Winning Steps Toward a Publishable Novel. by Darcy Pattison

    Viewpoint on Life Opening Lines

  3. Some stories open by presenting a “my philosophy of life.” This gives a story an instant structure, because the author must prove/disprove thesis presented. It’s a bit old fashioned in tone, but there are still some quotes here from the 80s and 90s.
    Quote Author Title Year
    6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Leo Tolstoy (trans. Constance Garnett) Anna Karenina 1877
    20. 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. Charles Dickens David Copperfield 1850
    41. The moment one learns English, complications set in. Felipe Alfau Chromos 1990
    42. Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. Anita Brookner The Debut 1981
    44. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God 1937
    52. We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. Louise Erdrich Tracks 1988
    54. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. Graham Greene The End of the Affair 1951
    63. The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. G. K. Chesterton The Napoleon of Notting Hill 1904
    68. Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. David Foster Wallace The Broom of the System 1987
    78. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. L. P. Hartley The Go-Between 1953
    80. Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. William Gaddis A Frolic of His Own 1994
    88. Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women. Charles Johnson Middle Passage 1990
    96. Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. Margaret Atwood Cat’s Eye 1988
    99. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea 1966

  4. More on Openings:

    Mid-action Opening Lines

  5. This opening starts right in the middle of some action, the middle of a scene. It assumes that reader will care about the characters. It risks the reader asking “who cares?” instead of“why?”
    Quote Author Title Year
    3. A screaming comes across the sky. Thomas Pynchon Gravity’s Rainbow 1973
    11. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. Nathanael West Miss Lonelyhearts 1933
    21. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. James Joyce Ulysses 1922
    23. One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. Thomas Pynchon The Crying of Lot 49 1966
    25. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. William Faulkner The Sound and the Fury 1929
    33. Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.” Gertrude Stein The Making of Americans 1925
    37. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway 1925
    46. Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex’s admonition, against Allen’s angry assertion: another African amusement . . . anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa’s antipodal ant annexation. Walter Abish Alphabetical Africa 1974
    51. Elmer Gantry was drunk. Sinclair Lewis Elmer Gantry 1927
    65. You better not never tell nobody but God. Alice Walker The Color Purple 1982
    70. Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up. Flannery O’Connor The Violent Bear it Away 1960
    82. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. Dodie Smith I Capture the Castle 1948
    97. He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters. Virginia Woolf Orlando 1928
  6. Spoken word–dialogue Opening Lines

  7. By starting with dialogue, the story signals that this is a of novel of relationships and of truth-telling or its opposite.
    It’s also risky because the reader must immediately care about these characters.

    Quote Author Title Year
    36. —Money . . . in a voice that rustled. William Gaddis J R 1975
    66. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” Salman Rushdie The Satanic Verses 1988
    76. “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. Rose Macaulay The Towers of Trebizon 1956
    83. “When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.” Katherine Dunn Geek Love 1983
  8. Landscape Opening Lines

  9. Some stories open with the setting, especially some description of landscape. This signals the importance of place and how LIKE a particular place their characters are, or how the characters are opposite from that place.
    Quote Author Title Year
    15. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Samuel Beckett Murphy 1938
    17. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. James Joyce A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 1916
    30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. William Gibson Neuromancer 1984
    75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms 1929
    90. The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. Sinclair Lewis Babbitt 1922
    100. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. Stephen Crane The Red Badge of Courage 1895
  10. Set up Opening Lines

  11. This is almost a catch-all category, in which the story is set up someway. Sometimes, I put a quote here, because it embodied several of the other types of openings and in the end, it was easier to put it here than repeat it in several places. This is the most blatant story-telling style. It also allows a fast start to a story.
    Quote Author Title Year
    4. 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. Gabriel García Márquez (trans. Gregory Rabassa) One Hundred Years of Solitude 1967
    7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. James Joyce Finnegans Wake 1939
    12. You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1885
    13. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. Franz Kafka (trans. Breon Mitchell) The Trial 1925
    14. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Italo Calvino (trans. William Weaver) If on a winter’s night a traveler 1979
    16. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. J. D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye 1951
    19. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me. Laurence Sterne Tristram Shandy 1759–1767
    29. Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. Ha Jin Waiting 1999
    32. Where now? Who now? When now? Samuel Beckett (trans. Patrick Bowles) The Unnamable 1953
    38. All this happened, more or less. Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five 1969
    39. They shoot the white girl first. Toni Morrison Paradise 1998
    40. For a long time, I went to bed early. Marcel Proust (trans. Lydia Davis) Swann’s Way 1913
    43. I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane; Vladimir Nabokov Pale Fire 1962
    45. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. Edith Wharton Ethan Frome 1911
    55. Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression. Flann O’Brien At Swim-Two-Birds 1939
    56. I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call’d me. Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe 1719
    57. In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street. David Markson Wittgenstein’s Mistress 1988
    61. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. W. Somerset Maugham The Razor’s Edge 1944
    64. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby 1925
    73. Hiram Clegg, together with his wife Emma and four friends of the faith from Randolph Junction, were summoned by the Spirit and Mrs. Clara Collins, widow of the beloved Nazarene preacher Ely Collins, to West Condon on the weekend of the eighteenth and nineteenth of April, there to await the End of the World. Robert Coover The Origin of the Brunists 1966
    79. On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. Russell Hoban Riddley Walker 1980
    81. Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. J. G. Ballard Crash 1973
    93. Psychics can see the color of time it’s blue. Ronald Sukenick Blown Away 1986
    94. In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. Carson McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter 1940
    95. Once upon a time two or three weeks ago, a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man decided to record for posterity, exactly as it happened, word by word and step by step, the story of another man for indeed what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal, a somewhat paranoiac fellow unmarried, unattached, and quite irresponsible, who had decided to lock himself in a room a furnished room with a private bath, cooking facilities, a bed, a table, and at least one chair, in New York City, for a year 365 days to be precise, to write the story of another person—a shy young man about of 19 years old—who, after the war the Second World War, had come to America the land of opportunities from France under the sponsorship of his uncle—a journalist, fluent in five languages—who himself had come to America from Europe Poland it seems, though this was not clearly established sometime during the war after a series of rather gruesome adventures, and who, at the end of the war, wrote to the father his cousin by marriage of the young man whom he considered as a nephew, curious to know if he the father and his family had survived the German occupation, and indeed was deeply saddened to learn, in a letter from the young man—a long and touching letter written in English, not by the young man, however, who did not know a damn word of English, but by a good friend of his who had studied English in school—that his parents both his father and mother and his two sisters one older and the other younger than he had been deported they were Jewish to a German concentration camp Auschwitz probably and never returned, no doubt having been exterminated deliberately X * X * X * X, and that, therefore, the young man who was now an orphan, a displaced person, who, during the war, had managed to escape deportation by working very hard on a farm in Southern France, would be happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to come to America that great country he had heard so much about and yet knew so little about to start a new life, possibly go to school, learn a trade, and become a good, loyal citizen. Raymond Federman Double or Nothing 1971
    98. High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. David Lodge Changing Places 1975
  12. Start Your Novel by Darcy Pattison
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    Let’s meet Jack or Jill

  13. When the novel opens with a description of a character, or explanation of a character’s actions, it promises a character-centered story from viewpoint of omniscient and opinionated narrator. Unlike “set-up” this approach offers no particular narrative promise, only that it will be about this character. It often signals a morality tale or at least a cautionary lesson: there’s no use meeting Jack or Jill if there’s not point to meeting him.
    Quote Author Title Year
    5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. Vladimir Nabokov Lolita 1955
    27. Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. Miguel de Cervantes (trans. Edith Grossman) Don Quixote 1605
    47. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. C. S. Lewis The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 1952
    48. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea 1952
    58. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. George Eliot Middlemarch 1872
    60. What if this young woman, who writes such bad poems, in competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings? Gilbert Sorrentino Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things 1971
    72. When Dick Gibson was a little boy he was not Dick Gibson. Stanley Elkin The Dick Gibson Show 1971
    74. She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably, and there were moments at which she showed herself, in the glass over the mantel, a face positively pale with the irritation that had brought her to the point of going away without sight of him. Henry James The Wings of the Dove 1902
    77. He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull. Joseph Conrad Lord Jim 1900
    84. In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point. John Barth The Sot-Weed Factor 1960
    92. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Raphael Sabatini Scaramouche 1921
  14. “Let’s meet Joe, my friend.”

  15. Opening a novel by introducing a friend makes it still observational, but from a first-person vantage. It has the advantage of telling the reader about both the narrator and the person described.
    Quote Author Title Year
    62. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. Anne Tyler Back When We Were Grownups 2001
    85. When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. James Crumley The Last Good Kiss 1978
  16. I AM

  17. This novel opening is a variation of meeting a character, except this time, the first-person narrator is giving a summary or a judgment about themselves. It’s often a skewed perspective and should definitely introduce a great voice. This wasn’t one of Susan Lumenello’s original categories, but it’s so 21st century, don’t you think?
    Quote Author Title Year
    1. Call me Ishmael. Herman Melville Moby-Dick 1851
    10. I am an invisible man. Ralph Ellison Invisible Man 1952
    31. I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (trans. Michael R. Katz) Notes from Underground 1864
    34. In a sense, I am Jacob Horner. John Barth The End of the Road 1958
    50. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex 2002
    69. If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog. Saul Bellow Herzog 1964
    71. Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me. GŸnter Grass (trans. Ralph Manheim) The Tin Drum 1959
    87. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled. Robert Graves I, Claudius 1934
    89. I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. Saul Bellow The Adventures of Augie March 1953
    91. I will tell you in a few words who I am: lover of the hummingbird that darts to the flower beyond the rotted sill where my feet are propped; lover of bright needlepoint and the bright stitching fingers of humorless old ladies bent to their sweet and infamous designs; lover of parasols made from the same puffy stuff as a young girl’s underdrawers; still lover of that small naval boat which somehow survived the distressing years of my life between her decks or in her pilothouse; and also lover of poor dear black Sonny, my mess boy, fellow victim and confidant, and of my wife and child. But most of all, lover of my harmless and sanguine self. John Hawkes Second Skin 1964
  18. Misleading opening lines

  19. Sometimes a novel begins with a line that is misleading, or lines that need the second, or succeeding lines, to get the full impact. There may be some which belong here, but I didn’t always have that second line to read to decide. No, I haven’t read all these stories, so that didn’t help.
    Quote Author Title Year
    28. Mother died today. Albert Camus (trans. Stuart Gilbert) The Stranger 1942
  20. Alternative Media Opening Lines

  21. Some stories rely on other forms to tell a story such as letters, diary, autobiography, schedules, official papers, etc. Gives the author some authority. The important thing is how the form is exploited. Some forms give opportunity for an intimate voice, such as diaries. This was one of Susan Lumenello’s original categories, but I didn’t find any that fit it in this list. It is still a valid way to open a story, of course, but it seems it’s not very popular with literary critics.
  22. Screenplay (or Graphic Novel)

  23. Likewise, this was one of Susan Lumenello’s original categories, but it’s not on this list. It starts a novel by tag lines such as date, place, time. It’s a minimalist way to start a story, but it can establishes immediacy and imprints reader with a moment or image. Interestingly, as I looked at some graphic novels, this is the way some of them start.


I have made decisions about how to categorize each quote, but it wasn’t easy. For example, “Elmer Gantry was drunk.”
This could be an introduction to the character, or it could be starting in mid-action. I categorized it as mid-action, but if you argue the other, I’d agree. Feel free to disagree: the point is that these are successful ways of starting a story, not whether I categorized them right! But hey, you can also straighten me out in the comment section – please do!

More on Openings:

39 thoughts on “0

  1. I’m still pondering possible opening lines for my novel, but somehow while reading your wonderful compilation, an entire opening scene burst into my mind, with my narrator describing another character, per your seventh category. Something I had never considered before, but now it seems so obvious. Thank you!

  2. I’ve gone back to this 4 times since Kristin posted the link to the listserv… Thanks for being such a great teacher, as always, Darcy.

  3. Thank you for compiling this list! I’ve been struggling for months with a better way to start my novel, and after getting some ideas here I cranked out the first two pages!

  4. I’ve lived on this Earth for nigh three score years and spent a few of these years in search of a opening line.
    There are stories bubbling inside my head, anxious to spill out.
    But none have the key – a good story line.
    Thank you darcy. I hope I can take it up from here.

  5. For two years I’ve been working on a novel, unable to come up with a satisfactory opening. Read this and did it. Finally. Hot damn and thank you!

  6. Hi Darcy,

    As you know, I’m an unabashed fan of yours. On your 12 opening lines, I’m sorry to say that none of them do it for me. I recommend Les Edgerton’s great little book HOOKED. It deals with nothing but beginings. Here is what Edgerton says about the opening line: “Spend an awful lot of time on this sentence. In fact, more effort should be expended on your story’s first sentence than on any other line in your entire story. No kidding. The first sentence is the first thing the readers will see when they open the door of your manuscript or story. Make sure it’s a good ‘un! One that will create a strong impression. My own favorite is one I used in my short story “The Bad Part of Town.” which begins: He was so mean that wherever he was standing becamed the bad part of town.” I wish I’d written that Les. So then according to Edgerton the opening must contain an inciting incident, story-worthy problem, and setup.

    I didn’t find any of these elements in any of the 12 openings you proposed.

    It was: Weather report. Ho hum.
    Viewpoint in life: Story-worthy problem?
    Mid-action: Inciting incident?
    Dialogue: Who is Sloth and why should the reader care if he survived or not?
    Landscape: Information dump.
    Set Up: For what? Loosely, you could say this is the inciting incident and story-worthy problem. Laurel is missing.
    Meet Jack or Jill: Is Laurel’s size, per her father’s description the inciting incident?
    Let’s meet Joe, My Friend: Why should the reader care?
    I am: Frozen in time is a story-worthy problem I’d like to hear more about.
    Misleading lines: Just so. I’m confused.
    Alternative media: Never open with backstory.
    Screenplay: I use place, date, and time myself.

    Here’s the opening of my new novel The Campeche Reprisal:

    Airborne, enroute to the Safe House on the Texas side of the Rio Grande: 18 February 1968, 0645: The deafening noise of the helicopter’s engine combined with the howl of the wind whipping through the open cargo bay to drown out Kelly’s screams as cramps, beginning deep in his gut, followed by bone-crunching chills and rigors wracked his body. The painful process of his resurrection from the hell of his addiction was only just beginning.

    Would you want to read on?

    Again, I recommend Edgerton’s book HOOKED.

    Best wishes,

    Jim Gilliam

  7. Hey, thanks for the recommendation of HOOKED, I’ll look at it.

    If you read my original post, though, you’ll see that I I’ve illustrated them with the “100 Best Lines from Novels,” as chosen by the editors of the American Book Review.

    While I understand yours and Edgerton’s advice, these 100 Best Opening Lines break those rules! Shrug. It’s why you can just never tell what an editors’ or readers’ opinion will be.

    As you can see, though, I am still working on my opening line.


  8. While I myself start stories for Middle Grade readers mid-action, because I think that age group responds best to short, emphatic sentences & paragraphs filled with action (as opposed to rumination), I would advise not starting any story with any pronoun other than “I” (despite the classic examples you have given) because ‘it,’ ‘there,’ even ‘thing’ are essentially weak, meaningless words.

  9. Hi Darcy,

    I agree that your 100 examples break the rules, however, look at the authors who are breaking those rules. I may be mistaken, but I didn’t see one name that I didn’t recognize. That means that none of those authors are first time authors or even mid-list authors like C. J. Lyons or Michael Palmer, both physicians turned author are New York Times best selling authors. Enjoy HOOKED and good luck getting that opening just right. I’ve revised the opening of my new novel no less than 100 times. My neighbor across the street teaches creative writing. No one said it was going to be easy.

  10. This really helped! I have used this multiple times and I have gotten many great options for novel starters with it. Thank you very much!

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