In my last post, I wrote about how important it is to craft a strong opening. One that hooks the reader and makes her want to continue reading. I also listed three openings that are not very captivating and three from famous, classical authors. Now here are some first lines from contemporary works on my bookshelf:

It was my first day. I had come the night before, a gray-black and cold night before-as it was expected to be in the middle of January, though I didn’t know that at the time –
Lucy – Jamaica Kincaid 1990

Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house.
The Bluest Eye
– Toni Morrison 1994

The day she walked the streets of Silk, a chafing wind kept the temperature low and the sun was helpless to move outdoor thermometers more than a few degrees above freezing.
– Toni Morrison 2003

“Any day now!” Anya shouted, as the car in front of her remained motionless even though the other lanes were inching forward.
– Victoria Christopher Murray 2001

After eight months spent in the obscurity of our mother’s womb, my brother, Shiva, and I came into the world in the late afternoon of the twentieth of September in the year of grace 1954.
Cutting For Stone
– Abraham Verghese 2009

It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty-second birthday. When, as usual, the flower was delivered, he took off the wrapping paper and then picked up the telephone to call Detective Superintendent Morell who, when he retired, had moved to Lake Siljan in Dalarma.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
– Stieg Larsson 2009

I have read and enjoyed all but the last two. I’m in the process of reading Cutting For Stone. The last one I’ve not yet begun, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a powerful book. From the above, you may have made the same observation that I have – that only one of them began with a direct quotation and with some type of action. An impatient young woman shouting at the driver in front of her to move it.

All of the other opening lines seem to usher us gently into the story, but in such a way that even though we may be hesitant to enter, our curiosity still gets the better of us. Let’s look at the first one. It was my first day. I had come the night before, a gray-black and cold night before-as it was expected to be in the middle of January, though I didn’t know that at the time – My first day of what? Where had she come from? Why didn’t she know that at the time? Without posing a question, the author puts questions in the mind of the reader.

I like the first one by Toni Morrison. This author has the gift of getting into the character’s mind so precisely that her words come over exactly as that character would have expressed them. These opening lines make us want to know about this young girl who turns out to be as simplistic as the words.

According to Writer’s Relief, opening lines should do some or all of the following:

Establish tone

• Hint at conflict or theme

• Lure with the promise of some reward (reward meaning: the emotional reward of reading the book)

• Cause an instant emotional reaction, connection to character, and/or fascination with scene

Do the openers above do any of that for you? What do you like or don’t like about them? What are some of your favorite opening lines? Or, have you written a killer opener for your book or novel? Drop me a comment and let me know.


Here are two books that will help you to craft captivating openings:

Leave a Comment »