A Novel’s Opening Line

ImagePhoto Credit: Portrait of a Book

Today’s and tomorrow’s posts will be slightly related. I won’t reveal any more details now. You’ll have just have to see for yourself tomorrow.

Okay, so I’ve written posts about some of the more important aspects of books. Title. Character names. Well, today we get to talk about the first line of the book. It is often said that an author can lose a reader within those first few words, although I’ve never been one to believe in this notion. Let’s think about it. You’re reading your favorite author and the first sentence isn’t exactly the most enticing thing you’ve ever read. Are you going to close the book and throw it under your bed never to see the light of day again? No, of course not. Another scenario. You’re reading an author you’ve never read before and came across this book by any number of ways. You read the first sentence and it’s not necessarily to your liking. Are you going to close this book and vow never to read another book by this particular author again? No, you’re not. That would be stupid of you as a reader because you haven’t given the book or the author much chance at succeeding.

But since so much of the literary world seems to place so much importance upon the opening line I figured I could write a post about it. Now let’s get personal. Was I thinking about losing my reader by not writing a great first line? No. Did I place more importance upon the first line of my book than any other sentence? No. Am I a great writer? No. Wait, you tricked me! Anyway, the point that I’m trying to make is that the first line of your book is important, but let’s not pretend that it’ll be the end of the world if it’s not the most wonderful first sentence you’ve ever written.

The last point I’d like to make is that I’m not even sure I remember the first line of my book. So now I’m going to guess and then I’ll check to see how close I come. Sounds fun.

Guess

“I began pseudo dusting my desk that had accumulated no dust.”

Actual

I was close.

“With nothing better to do, I began dusting my desk that had accumulated no dust.”

So now I’m asking you both as a reader and as a writer, do you think greater importance should be placed upon the opening line of a book? Are there any first lines of any books that you know by memory? I have none. And feel free to criticize my opening line while you’re at it.

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49 thoughts on “A Novel’s Opening Line

  1. I can’t remember the first line of my novel lol. I think you make a good point. Yes first lines are important but they shouldn’t be seen as the most vital aspect of a novel. Like you, I often read books that don’t grab me with the first line. But I continue reading to find out if they will further down the line. I tend to give all books I read a really good chance before I give up on them. And I can remember the opening line of my favourite novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I won’t quote it here but loads of people know it. πŸ™‚

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  2. Not my words, but words that have stuck with me over the years.
    “My mother was the village whore and I loved her very much.” Totally hooked me in and kept themselves know even after the book’s been put down.
    From my own works:
    “I cannot die.
    Let’s just jump to the spoiler immediately.
    Let’s face facts.
    I can’t die.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • The one about the mother is something that I might actually remember. I like yours.

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      • Why thank you on the compliment about my opener! That’s the part I struggle with the most. Conclusion, interior middle and fatty bits of the story are a breeze. It’s the opening lines where I stand still and stare like the blinking cursor is a hell-minion and one wrong word will cost me my soul.
        The mother/village whore is from The Unexpected Dragon by Mary Brown. πŸ™‚

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      • I struggle with the whole thing. Middle. End. Beginning. All of it. Haha

        Never heard of the book or author.

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  3. I think the first sentence of a novel is the reader’s first experience and it should excite or intrigue, or, in some other way inspire the reader to want to read more. Some readers may be drawn more by warmth and friendliness than by flashy openings and mysterious innuendos. Readers are a baffling bunch, motivating writers to pander to their demands by providing amazing first sentences. We do our best. Read and be blessed!

    I’m enjoying your novel, John. My Kindle says I’m 73% through it.

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  4. This is something I found interesting/frustrating about the Pitch Slam contest I participated in! I think judging a book by it’s first page (or the first 250 words in the contest’s case) is essentially judging a book by its cover. When I’m looking at a book, I pick a page in the middle and start skimming. I look for the voice, not the excitement or drama or whatever. I think that’s much more representative of the book as a whole. A book can have a huge exhilarating opening or good concept, but doesn’t have good storytelling or characters with life in the rest. A hook is important, but it doesn’t have to come in the first line or the first page and it doesn’t have to hit you over the head or be the main conflict of the entire story.

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  5. The first line of my book: “The small town of Vilincia was bustling with settlers on their way to the west coast.”
    Yeah, I know it’s cheesy but it’s mine!
    The first line of my favorite book is
    “Around midnight, her eyes at last took shape.”

    I have never turned down a book for the first line. It really takes a lot to get me pulled into a book much less the series that is my fave! “Fallen” by Lauren Kate. I always had a hard time reading as a kid and now as an adult because I need to see things. i have a hard time imagining what other people are seeing and writing about. Although my books came from my vision so it makes sense to me.

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  6. It’s funny how hard it is to remember the important lines in our own books. But that’s the fun — surprising yourself!

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  7. Most opening lines make me want to roll my eyes, and my own is no exception: “The mansion was bubblegum pink.”

    I’ve had numerous opening lines, but this one is simpler and straight-forward. Which I like. I dislike opening lines that makes themselves into paragraphs.

    I think yours is good, John. It tells quite a bit about the character. He’s meticulous (or easily bored), he has a desk (so he has a job), but it’s clean, so either he’s not busy, or he’s a bit OCD about his cleanliness. There are a lot of questions that form from your opening line, so don’t think it’s bad.

    I NEVER judge a book by its opening line, because I dislike most of them. Even my own, like I said.

    Probably the opening lines that are most memorable to me is: “Call me Ishmael.” From Moby Dick. Classic. Also: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” from Pride and Prejudice. Hilarious! At least to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I LOVE yours! I’d just like to know why there’s a mansion that’s bubblegum pink. Haha

      Hmm. You analyzed mine quite a bit. Maybe I’m no good at this writing thing but I never would have come up with those questions that you did. Or the answers.

      You’re the second person to mention the Pride and Prejudice one. Interesting.

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    • Oh, and your comments are always so long and seemingly thought out. You’re like my number one fan. Haha

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      • Haha! I’m a TERRIBLE number one fan, then, since I haven’t read your book yet. *Shame face!*

        But I honestly like what you have to say in your posts and I usually agree with everything.

        And sometimes, even when my comments appear thought out, I can stick my foot in my mouth. I do it quite often.

        And you are a good writer. I just have a tendency to overanalyze most things. Either it’s a girl thing, or something I learned in grad school. We had to look at things a million different ways to make sure we’re doing the right thing.

        Man, that was a long reply. You’re so poetic about it, but why don’t you just come right out and say it.

        I’M LONGWINDED!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hahahaha I seriously almost edited my second comment to include, “Even though you haven’t read my book….”

        I never notice. You always write like paragraphs and other people write a sentence or three words.

        Yeah yeah. I’m a good blogger. You have to read my book to say writer instead. Haha

        Anyway, it’s nice knowing that someone actually reads all the way through my posts. At least I think you do. I’m pretty sure so many people just hit Like without reading for whatever reason or just because I might have Liked one of their posts. So, you’re appreciated! Hahaha πŸ™‚

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      • Well, I’m glad to be appreciated. I guess I’m too much of an straight forward person. So how the heck will I know if I like what people are writing if I don’t read it? Honestly, it doesn’t make sense to me.

        And I promise, your book IS on my TBR list. I’ll try and move it up a few spaces.

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      • Honestly, it doesn’t make sense to me either. But blah. Some bloggers are just evil.

        Should be next in line. πŸ™‚

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      • I just ordered it via Amazon with my credit card rewards points! Woohoo!! Should have it by Friday. (I hate ebooks).

        And I agree. Some bloggers ARE evil.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Uh oh. If you hate it, hate the book. Still like me, please. Haha. But really.

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      • I’ll give you my honest opinion, but I’m not a mean person. I promise. But you should also know that I don’t really read mysteries all that much, so my opinion may count for nothing.

        And your blog is pretty sweet, so no worries that I’ll stop following or commenting. I’m really not that wishy-washy.

        Looking forward to reading it!

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      • If you like it then you can tell me. If you don’t then I don’t want to talk about it. Haha.

        I’m scared.

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      • No need to be scared, silly. Aren’t YOU the one who told me to read the reviews I’ll eventually have for my books??? Hmm??? HMMM?!?!?!? πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha I don’t know what you’re talking about. πŸ™‚

        But I just read one of mine yesterday. She said it put her to sleep. And she unfollowed me on here. I think. I wanted to punch her in the face.

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      • Jeez. What a loser! I’D like to punch her in the face. And I haven’t even read it yet!! What a doof. (There are a few other names that come to mind, but I won’t mention them).

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      • I know! I didn’t exercise such restraint yesterday. I kinda tweeted about her. Haha I’m horrible. Oh well.

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      • Meh. Don’t give it another thought.

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      • I haven’t. I just laugh.

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  8. Pingback: Quoting Your Favorite Authors via Their Books | Write me a book, John!

  9. When I’m going to buy a book, I read the first 3-5 sentences and then flip it open in the middle and read another few sentences. Probably for different reasons; first, where I live it was for quite a long time simply not allowed to schmΓΆker in a book while you were standing in the store. If you spent to much time skimming the pages, the sales clerk would yell at you: ‘If you wanna read, you have to buy, this is not a library!’ So I’m still used to having a quick check. Secondly, I want to know if the first few sentences make me curious about the rest. And the bits in the middle I read to see, if I like the ‘writing voice’ of the author.

    And here a first sentence that intrigued me: ‘On November 11, 1997, Veronika decided that the moment to kill herself had – at last! – arrived.’

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  10. First – thanks for visiting my blog. (A predidtable first line, but still.)
    Second – I like your first line, though I’ve no idea what dust or desks might have to do with what happens next, so I can’t fully judge.
    Which brings me to my third point. I think first lines are important, but also that – in our quick fix / tweet-ish / information-overload culture – we can tend to exaggerate iit. The way I see it, trouble with all that emphasis on the first line is that it can tempt people to put in something shocking, in-yer-face, shouty or psuedo-quirky for the sake of it, whether or not it fits the story that follows it. If that first line serves a purpose, fitting or foreshadowing what follows, that’s good. If not, then not so good. Does that make sense?
    Anyway, as you say, surely no-one truly decides whether to read further based on just one line. That would be dumb.
    But on the other hand … I fear that many decisions are based on something not much more – a few paragraphs maybe, or a page or two. The thing is, there’s so much choice, and so many chances to sample for free. If you’ve bought a book, you’ll probably give it a good chance. But if you’re browsing in a bookshop, looking at a free sample on a website, or on Amazon’s look inside the book feature, that story probably needs to grab your attention pretty damn quick, if you’re going to choose it ahead of the zillion other things fighting for your attention.
    And if you’re trying to get your book published conventionally, to catch the attenion of an editor or publisher, you haven’t got long either. So the start is very importnat whether we like it or not … but rather more than just one line hopefully.
    Myself, once I’ve started a book I’ll usually give it a few chapters even if I’m not enjoying it.

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    • I agree with just about everything you said. People may not judge by the first line, but the story better grab them within the first few pages, especially if they haven’t actually bought the book yet.

      Don’t mind the typos. I do it sometimes on other blogs and tell myself, “Idiot. Learn to type.” Hahaha

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  11. BTW, sorry about the typos in my comment above. But that’s another point – if you’re first line has typos, you’ve probably blown it!

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  12. And I can’t believe that in my comment apologising for typos, I’ve written ‘you’re first line …’. Mental note: type more slowly. Now I’ll get my coat …

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  13. Pingback: Is Your Significant Other a Reader/Writer? | Write me a book, John!

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