Favorite Opening Lines/Paragraphs

When it comes time for me to tackle my submission pile, I tend to approach it in three ways. First, I see if there are any submissions with offers or “interest” from other editors. If there aren’t any submissions that are under a time crunch, I tend to start with the oldest submission on my list. My last approach to submissions is a bit more fun and tends to happen when I’m trapped underground on the subway during my commute. On average I have about 15-20 submissions on my ereader at a time. If I’ve just finished a submission or reading a manuscript from one of my authors, I’ll just open a random document on my ereader and read the first paragraph. If I’m hooked on that, I keep reading. If not, I pick another random document and start the next submission and continue until I’m hooked. Does this mean I ignore the submissions I opened previously? Of course not. That submission might not have been the right submission for the mood I was in that moment.

My main point here is this: Opening lines/paragraphs are important. I always read past those first few lines of a submission, but a potential reader in a bookstore might only read that first page before making the decision to buy your book.

My favorite opening is from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Gives me the creeps every time!

I asked my fellow Pub Crawlers to share some of their favorite opening lines. You’ll see below the wide range of genres and hooks from many books.

S. Jae-Jones (JJ):

JJ Beloved: 124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

We Were Liars: Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.

Imaginary Girls: Ruby said I’d never drown—not in deep ocean, not by shipwreck, not even by falling drunk into someone’s bottomless backyard pool.

Erin Bowman:

Erin Bowman 1984: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

The Catcher in the Rye: 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.

The Book Thief: First colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.

The Scorpio Races: It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.

Holes: There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.

The Book of Lost Things: Once upon a time—for that is how all stories should begin—there was a boy who lost his mother.

Jellicoe Road: My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted. It happened on the Jellicoe Road.

Julie Eshbaugh:

Julie Eshbaugh Square Lolita: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

Charlotte Sometimes: By bedtime all the faces, the voices, had blurred for Charlotte to one face, one voice.

The Hobbit: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.

Monster: The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.

Alex Bracken:

Alex Square Voyage of the Dawn Treader: There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Matilda: It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

The Graveyard Book: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle: Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.

Catherine, Called Birdy: I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.

Joanna Volpe:

Jo Square Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: You stop fearing the Devil when you’re holding his hand.

Chained: The flood left, but the fever stayed.

The Reapers Are the Angels: God is a slick god.

Adam Silvera:

Adam-HiRes-square Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Why do we smile? Why do we laugh? Why do we feel alone? Why are we sad and confused? Why do we read poetry? Why do we cry when we see a painting? Why is there a riot in the heart when we love? Why do we feel shame? What is that thing in the pit of your stomach called desire?

E.C. Myers:

EC Myers The Night Circus: The circus arrives without warning.

Mortal Engines: It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.

The Silver Crown: She had known all along that she was a queen, and now the crown proved it. It was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes; it lay beside her on the pillow, shinier than silver, glowing softly, with twinkling blue stones set all around.

The Witches: In fairy tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy tale. This is about REAL WITCHES.

Amie Kaufman:

Amie Kaufman Seven SorcerersNin had never liked Wednesdays, but this one took the biscuit. On this Wednesday she woke up to find that it was raining buckets and that her brother had ceased to exist.

Susan Dennard:

SusanDennard Bel CantoWhen the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.

Catch-22: It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

The Lightning Thief: Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

Janice Hardy:

Janice Square A Christmas Carol: Marley was dead: to begin with.

Godless: Getting punched hard in the face is a singular experience.

Rachel Seigel:

Rachel Square The Midnight Charter: Being dead was colder than Mark expected.

What are some of your favorite opening lines of books?


9 Responses to Favorite Opening Lines/Paragraphs

  1. Katie Aug 4 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    What a fantastic post 🙂 Here’s my favorite:

    “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”

    ELANTRIS, Brandon Sanderson

  2. Angela Norton Tyler Aug 4 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Nice post! These first lines are so motivational! Just reading them makes me want to start writing (and to go back and fix the first sentence of my manuscript!)

  3. Tracey Neithercott Aug 4 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    I love JELLICOE ROAD’s first line, too. The opening of Franny Billingsley is great, too:

    I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.
    Now, if you please.

    • Tracey Neithercott Aug 4 2014 at 2:19 pm #

      Um, and that was Franny Billingsley’s CHIME, not a book called Franny Billingsley. 😉

  4. Erin Aug 4 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    I love CHIME! Good choice!
    Though it isn’t a book, but more a poem, it is still my favorite opening:

    April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. THE WASTELAND by T.S. Eliot

    Then HILD by Nicola Griffith:
    The child’s world changed late one afternoon, though she didn’t know it.

  5. Susan Aug 4 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    “Keith Talent was a bad guy. Keith Talent was a very bad guy. You might even say that he was the worst guy.”

    London Fields
    by Martin Amis

  6. Natalie Aug 12 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Ahhh I love The Silver Crown- great pick EC 🙂

    As to favorite opening line, I have always loved Fahrenheit 451’s “It was a pleasure to burn.”

  7. Alexa S. Aug 26 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    I absolutely agree about the importance of opening lines/ paragraphs! Usually, right from the moment I read that first line, I can already tell if I’m going to like this book or not (even though I obviously give it a little longer than that before making my final judgment). But really, a first line is just as much of a first impression as the cover for a reader, especially when browsing in a bookstore, so it has to stand out! You’ve included some of my favorite first lines here, particularly the ones from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Book Thief and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

  8. Dale Lambert Jul 17 2020 at 7:38 am #

    Hi Jordan, I’d like to submit my own first paragraph. Would you, as an expert, continue reading?
    ‘Alcheringa.’ Sci/Fi/Adv.

    The red earth was naked around a set of old stockyards. Tens of thousands of hooves over the years had made certain of that. Air, thick with fine dust, hung over the cattle milling into a tight, uneasy knot in a far end of the holding yard. In one corner, wrapping itself around a rotting fence post was the gnarled and twisted trunk of a lone brigalow tree. It clawed its way skyward; a stark reminder drought had visited this ancient land many times in the past.

    Thanks, Jordan … I know I’m being cheeky. Cheers from Oz.

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