Opening Lines

This week in Yo Ho a Writer’s Life for Me, we are discussing first-liners. You know, those first lines of a novel that grips you and you want to know more.  In The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell says it’s about engaging the readers as soon as possible, giving them something to worry about. As a reader, I can’t really attest to this. I mean, I’ve sat down and studied the first lines of my favorite novels and some best-selling novels, and I can’t really say that I was “hooked” by the first line.

So let’s have a looksee…

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

Yes, I know. Harry Potter. I love the author’s voice here, but it’s not really giving me something to worry about, except of course, knowing that these “perfectly normal” folks were about to be surprised with an unwanted bundle of joy. I would have to say it was her style/voice that drew me in at the beginning.

I Am Ocilla“The darkness of my abyss consumes.”

I am Ocilla by Diane M. Graham. Now, doesn’t that just grab you? Of course this is the beginning of chapter one. There is also a prologue. “Two dark forms glide across the open field.”

“Two children, a brother and a sister, played down by the Old Bridge nearly every day, weather permitting.” Heartless (Tales of Goldstone Wood Book #1)

Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I love this book, as some of you already know, but this opening really didn’t hook me, although, at the end of the prologue, that golden cat with no eyes, yeah, I was engaged. As I’m typing this, Heartless is free on Kindle, so check it out!


The Book of Names: A Novel (Legends of Karac Tor)
And some opening lines are so short, you have to read on just to get an idea of what’s going on, such as the case with, The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs.
“In short order, the afternoon sky cooled from blue to marbled gray.” But as we read on it builds to: “The perfect day for magic. Hadyn Barlow would have none of it.

That intrigued me.

Then there are some openings that stretch on forever like Terry Brooks’ first line in The Sword of Shannara.The sun was already sinking into the deep green of the hills to the west of the valley, the red and gray-pink of its shadows touching the corners of the land, when Flick Ohmsford began his descent.

Not sure if that hooked me, but I have to say this book introduced me to fantasy and the rest is history. 🙂

So what say you? Do you agree the opening line needs to hook us? What are some of your favorite books and their first line? What about the book grabs you and makes you want to read more?

Speaking of opening lines and being hooked, there’s a contest over at Reader’s Realm for the best hook. If you’re a writer and would like to test out your opening paragraph, check it out!  The contest ends September 20th.

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3 thoughts on “Opening Lines

  1. Catherine Johnson says:

    Great post, Jennette! That first one is so intriguing but not necessarily exciting words and vice versa for the others. So really it’s intrigue not a fancy line that hooks.

    Here’s the opening line from Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund (and line 2 ssh!)

    It was time. The drunk shanty boys were finally quiet.

    Personally I think you need both these lines to really hook you but It was time isn’t bad on its own either. Do you agree?

    • J. L. Mbewe says:

      Oh, that is intriguing! But you’re right, we could get away with “It was time.” For what? Let us read more and find out. Of course that next sentence is loaded.

      I think we need at least two, if not the whole chapter. 🙂 Maybe it’s every sentence that carries a hook, er…or not. What do you think? Is that even possible? I think if every sentence read like a “hook” we would be breathless and not sure what just happened. Or am I getting that mixed up with pulp fiction? hmmmm…. I think we are caught by how its told as much, if not more so, by what is told. That is art, the marrying of the two.

      thanks for sharing!

  2. […] land” as James Scott Bell puts it in The Art of War for Writers. Last week we discussed the first line, the hook: bring us in and engage us quickly. Today we talk about setting the mood of the opening scene […]

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