Friday, July 20, 2012

Great Opening Lines

by Jill Williamson

Opening lines are important, and I usually totally forget to make them rock in my books. And I still managed to get published several times. Go figure.

Still, a great opening line can instantly connect with the reader, it can set the scene, it can give voice and tone to your story, and it could be remembered and used in classrooms in schools and writer’s workshops all over the world for all time. So, it’s very worth it to take the extra time on your first line.

Here are some of my favorites. Can you guess the book without Googling the answer? If you don’t get that first one, I just don’t know what to say. Click here for the answers.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Camp Wahkah Wahkah wasn’t the worst experience I’ve ever had.”

“Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow’s nest, being the ship’s eyes.”

“Evil wears a mask, and I can finally see its face.” 

“The temperature of the room dropped fast.”

“Sometimes it seems like all I ever do is lie.”

“I used to be someone.”

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

“When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.”

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

“It's the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.”

Which opening line gripped you and why? And what’s one of your favorite openings in a book?

45 comments:

  1. Oh! I know the Camp Green Lake one! Holes. :D

    Here are a couple of my favorites:
    "To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman." (A Scandal in Bohemia)
    "The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette." (The Princess Bride)
    "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

    Thanks for the post!

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    1. And of the opening lines you listed, "The temperature of the room dropped fast," is actually the one that really made me curious. :)

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    2. Great lines, Laurie! I liked your examples.

      And that temperature one is intriguing, huh? Makes you wonder what's the deal.

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    3. Holes, yes, I recognized that too. A very powerful book, and the opening line really sets the tone for the whole thing.

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  2. Haha. The one I found interesting was "The early morning sky was the color of cat vomit."

    Here's a few I liked.

    1. My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years. ~Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

    2. The first sword missed Aidan's head by an inch ~The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

    3. Alastair Coldhollow tried to wipe the blood from his hands, but failed. ~ Sword in the Stars (Also by WTB)

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    1. "Cat vomit." If that's not a character's voice, I don't know what is. LOL

      Great opening lines, Bethany! Thanks for sharing them.

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  3. These are all really good ones! They make you intrigued by the story, story world, or give enough insight into the character to make you want to know them better! Besides the opening to The Hobbit (which I love!), I found Camp Wahkah Wahkah interesting because it hints at a story of issues at a camp, and that combined with the character's voice makes the story like it could be humorous. I liked "The temperature of the room dropped fast" because it pulls you straight into the action and makes you want to know in what sense the temperature dropped and why. I liked the tone of "When the doorbell rings at 3 in the morning, it's never good news" because it sounds like the narrator has a wry sense of humor. The narrator sounds like s/he would be fun to spend some time with. I also enjoyed the one about the moon, because I like science fiction, and this sounds like it combines science fiction and humor (which is a lot of fun).
    My favorite first line comes from Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George: "It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon."
    It tells me several things about the book: it involves dragons, the narrator is probably a girl and she has an aunt who is either cruel or not particularly intelligent. The matter-of-fact tone gives us a feel for the character, and the sentence as a whole begs me to keep reading, since people being given to dragons is never boring.
    Thanks for this post!
    ~Amo Libros

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    1. Thanks for sharing what you liked about each line. That's a great way to help you see ways of making your own lines powerful.

      I like that dragon opening too. Good one!

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  4. I love the first one, obviously, but the very last one intrigued me because I wanted to keep reading to solve m questions. Why does she have a stomache? Is her highschool terrible? Why?
    My favorite opener for a book is Dandi Daley Mackall's Winnie the Horse Gentler: My mom used to say to me, Winnie Willis, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and horses, and sometimesI think the good Lord should have quit while he was ahead.
    It's just such a great opening sentence to kick off a Christian horse book!

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    1. LOL! Yes, it is, Sarah. Dandi is a great writer. Have you read her new book The Silence of Murder? It's SO GOOD!

      And that stomachache book is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and it's a great book.

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  5. "When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news." I LOVE ALEX RIDER!!!!! ^_^

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    1. Thumbs up for books involving British spies. LOL

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    2. Ok, I'm going to have to read this now...who's the author?
      ~Amo Libros

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  6. HAHAHHA! “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." and “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit"? Those are EPIC! I might have to read these books now XD
    My favourite opening line ever is "I saw Byzantium in a dream, and I knew that I would die there." I read the first bit of the sentence, like, la de da, really, and then when he said he'd DIE - I was totally hooked and bought the book.

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    1. Nice one, Micah! That is intriguing. Because you're like, but she has to be alive if she's telling the story. Right? *turns page of book* LOL

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  7. I LOVE ALL THESE. :D
    Here are some of my favorites:
    "This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it."-The Princess Bride by William Goldman
    "In the year 2024, the world as we know it came to an end."-The Sword by Bryan M. Litfin
    "I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria."-Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
    I highly recommend all these books, especially The Princess Bride. It's one of the first romances I actually enjoyed. :)

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    1. Great lines, Tigris! Thanks for sharing them! I like that line from Fairest a lot.

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    2. I<3Fairest :) You just made my day with that one!

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  8. Oh, I know the three in the morning one! Alex Rider, right? Operation Stormbreaker (I think?).

    I love opening lines. *happy sigh* I'm pretty notorious for mine, because they're always... I dunno, short. Haha.

    My favorite line:

    "My dream went a little like this:" -- Some Percy Jackson book. Uh, I think it was The Sea of Monsters.

    And, I guess, some of my own:

    "A lot can happen in two minutes."

    and

    "Lucky's sweet sixteen started off okay and went downhill from there."

    And I would go surf through my book collection but there are way too many to list. xD

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    1. Great job on your own opening lines, Cinder! They're very compelling. Thanks for sharing them too. :-)

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  9. Jill!

    Awesome! Very very fun. I recognized only a few, but I did get the first. :)

    My all-time very favorite first line:

    "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

    Ha! And from memory, no less. There, for all the world to see, is proof of my geekiness. :)

    Every girl simply *must* have a creased-spine copy of P&P on her shelf.

    *steps off soapbox*

    Th End

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    1. I heart P&P. Wish I had time to read it right now!

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    2. That's awesome, Rachelle! I almost included that line in my comment earlier. Love P&P!! :)

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    3. Don't worry, I have it memorized too :)
      I love how you have Jane Austen's voice before you even know what the story's about. Well, now I don't, because I've read it way too many times. But the first time, I remember being surprised, because I didn't think it was going to be funny.

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    4. That is an epic opening line. Jane Austen is a genius.

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  10. my fave opening line is "Someone wanted to kill him" or "Behind me a noose hung empty and before me the land was wild."

    My stories never seem to have an awesome first line, but yet people always seem to love reading them anyway, so I guess I must be doing something right.

    Oh yeah, and the first one is from The Hobbit...slowest moving book I've ever read:P
    Dont know any of the others, but the 'cat vomit' deffinately got me:)

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    1. Those are good lines, Maddie. Thanks for sharing them. And cat vomit is pretty original, huh?

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  11. oooh, I love that "evil wears a mask one!" Really creative!

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    1. It is a good one, Kristin. It comes from one of Travis Thrasher's Solitary books.

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  12. Hmm...just a wild guess at the first one...The Hobbit?!!! Hahah!

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    1. p.s. good advice - picking a hooking first line.

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    2. How did you know????? :-P
      Yes, it's good to think that first line through.

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  13. “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

    “I used to be someone.”

    “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

    “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

    I love the moon one! And the sky. Haha! I like how they're so.. honest and normal sounding, I suppose. Off to see where they come from!

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    1. That is the magic of getting into your character's point of view and truly finding their voice. Cool when that happens, huh?

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  14. In all honesty, the one that drew me most was the last one. “It's the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.” I love that. :)

    "I used to be someone" really drew me, as well.

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    1. The "I used to be someone" is a GREAT book. I highly recommend.

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  15. Great post, Jill! I personally hate books that start off slow - without the action. I mean, who wants to know your version of the tedious cycle of, rolling out of bed, having breakfast and brushing your teeth? LOL - I'm so impatient!
    You've got some great opening lines there!
    I loved:
    “It's the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.” This one made me crack up but it also pulled me right in. It sort of reminded me of me obsession with notebooks! Haha. :)

    “Sometimes it seems like all I ever do is lie.” This one made me wonder why the character lies all the time. It really forced me to imagine what was going on and what lying has to do with anything!

    “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.” Love this one! I thought to myself: Why on earth would ANYONE ring a doorbell at three in the morning?! :)

    " I used to be someone" USED TO be? Interesting. SOMEONE - Does that mean someone else? Even more interesting. :)

    Ok. Enough of my blabber.
    Even though I haven't read Moby Dick (just because it doesn't seem like my kind of book, I love the opening line: 'Call me Ishmael." I don't know what it is, but it's so unique!
    I also love the opening line of Little Women. "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug."
    It's got such a sweet, homey tone and it makes me think why there isn't any Christmas presents.

    I'm really sorry about the long, tedious comment. Really sorry. :)

    P.S: I got the first one! The Hobbit! Applaud. Applaud. LOL :)

    Thanks so much, Jill! Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Writer! This was a fun post. I love the Little Women line, too. It really sets up the tone of the story. And "Call me Ishmael" is a super famous line.

      See what can happen? Your first line could go down in history!

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  16. I really like the “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake" one because it sounds like the book is a really fun read. I also like the “Evil wears a mask, and I can finally see its face” one because it makes me want to read more! :)

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    1. You bet, Shelley! As long as those first lines make you want to read more, they've done their job!

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  17. Wow! So excellent! I recognized "Airborn" (one of my faves), "The Hobbit" (which I haven't read but know the first scentence), "Holes" (I've read it 4 times!), and "The Hunger Games" (that sentence turned me off for quite a while...but I ended up favoriting the whole series!). The rest I don't think I've read but may have.

    My favorite opening lines include...
    A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times..."

    Scarmouche: "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."

    A Curse Dark as Gold: "When my father died, I thought my world would come to an end."

    The City of Ember: "When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future."

    The Dragon's Tooth: "North of Mexico, south of Canada, and not too far west of the freshwater sea called Lake Michigan, in a place where cows polka-dot hills and men are serious about cheese, there is a lady on a pole."

    Leepike Ridge: "In the history of the world there have been lots of onces and lots of times, and every time has had a once upon it."

    Those are just a few - aren't they wonderful? :)

    Great post! :D

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  18. I recognized only a few of those books: Stormbreaker(Love Alex Rider!!!), The Hobbit, and Holes. I loved all the others! My two faves were "Evil wears a mask, and I can finally see it's face." (*shiver*) and "I used to be someone". Now I really want to read them! ;)
    My two favorite openings are:
    "It was a dark and stormy night." -A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleiline L'Engle
    and...
    "The funny thing about facing imminent death is that it really snaps everything else into perspective." -The Angel Experiment(Maximum Ride), James Patterson
    I especially like 'The Angel Experiment' b/c Max's voice is so real.
    Thanks for sharing those lines!! :)

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  19. we just worked on this in Honors English, we each had to write our own first lines! :)
    Juliet
    www.apurplesky.blogspot.com

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  20. Oh yeah, I love those first lines!

    My favorite (from sisters of the sword 1): "I have become invisible."

    Yeah, I love that book. I memorized the introduction. :)

    Katelyn

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