Grand Openings

From Susan/Miranda:

Publishers spend a fortune on packaging books. They worry about the illustration on the cover, the size of the title versus the size of the author’s name, which review quotes to include, and how much plot to reveal in the back cover blurb. But while all these can make a potential reader choose a book from the shelf, the real deciding factor still lies in the hands (or more accurately, on the keyboard) of the author. Most readers will do just that in the store: open the lovely, foil-embossed cover, ignore the half-naked guy, and read the first page.

The old adage is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. For writers, if you have a lousy first page, the majority of readers won’t make it to the second. They’ll put the book down, and move on to another. Even editors who are paid to read will say that they know whether they’ll buy a new manuscript from that first page alone.

I was a slow learner about openings. My first book, which has long been mercifully out of print, had one of the slowest openings EVER. I had the heroine sitting by the river, watching the sun set, reflecting on how tedious her life was, how boring all her friends and family were, how much she wished something exciting would happen to her. Likely the reader felt that way, too, for this internal meandering went on for at least the first four or five pages, before, at last, someone else finally spoke out loud.

There’s no right or wrong way to write that magical opening, of course. Some are punchy and provocative, some shocking or funny, while others rely on a bit of fascinating scene-setting. All that’s required is a way to make the reader ask, “What happens next?”

Everyone has favorites, the openings that lead into an unforgettable story. I’m including a few choice ones (and certainly not all!), and I hope you’ll post yours, too. And I’m keeping my choices to current or nearly-current books. If I went backwards, “Call me Ishmael” would win best in show, hands down, but we’ll put Melville in the Hall of Fame, and limit the field to those writers who never worked on a whaling ship.

The Bartered Bride, by Mary Jo Putney:
Alex had finally dozed off in a corner of the cage, but she jerked upright at the sound of footsteps. Slavery had taught her that changes were seldom for the better, and she’d been frightened ever since guards brought her to the palace to confine her in this triple locked cage in a strange, luxurious chamber.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine, by Susan Elisabeth Phillips:
“Let me get this straight,” Jodie Pulanski said. “You want to give Cal Bonner a woman for a birthday present.”

The Challenge, by Edith Layton:
It was a peculiar bordello. The English gentleman was in a position to know.

To Catch an Heiress, by Julia Quinn:
Caroline Trent hadn’t meant to shoot Percival Prewitt, but she had, and now he was dead.

Smalltown Girl, by Patricia Rice:
Flynn Clinton rubbed his whisker stubble with his aching left hand and gazed over the dance floor of lithe gyrating bodies. He might be bad, but he sure the hell wasn’t young enough to make an ass of himself any more.

The Mad Earl’s Bride, by Loretta Chase:
The devil was partial to Dartmoor.

The Angel Knight, by Sarah Gabriel:
She stood on a green hill at dawn and watched her home burn.

Tell Me Lies, by Jennifer Crusie:
One hot August Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace underpants. They weren’t hers.

In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant:
My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting color into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman Emperor’s army blew a hole in the wall of God’s eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment.

Lord of Midnight, by Jo Beverly:
With the rhythm of a tolling bell, men pounded stake after stake into the dry summer ground. Others trailed behind, tying ropes to mark off a grassy circle. A court battle, a battle to the death, would draw a fair crowd, and a crowd must be controlled.

66 thoughts on “Grand Openings”

  1. My favorite opening is that of Harry Harrison’s ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’, which I suppose you could look at as a romance, if you squinted really really hard, but is usually thought of as Sci-Fi.
    It goes (any errors mine, rather than in the original):
    ‘When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It has been a money-maker–but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same somber expession and heavy foot that they all have–and the same lack of humor. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he utter a syllable.
    “James Boliver DiGriz I arrest you on the charge–”
    I was waiting for the word ‘charge’. I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop’s head. He squashed very nicely thank you. The cloud of plater dust settled and all I could see of him was one hand, slightly crumpled. It twitched a bit and the index finger pointed at me accusingly. His voice was a little muffled by the safe and sounded a little annoyed. In fact he repeated himself a bit.
    “…On the charge of illegal entry, theft, forgery–“‘
    Etc. etc. 🙂

    Reply
  2. My favorite opening is that of Harry Harrison’s ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’, which I suppose you could look at as a romance, if you squinted really really hard, but is usually thought of as Sci-Fi.
    It goes (any errors mine, rather than in the original):
    ‘When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It has been a money-maker–but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same somber expession and heavy foot that they all have–and the same lack of humor. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he utter a syllable.
    “James Boliver DiGriz I arrest you on the charge–”
    I was waiting for the word ‘charge’. I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop’s head. He squashed very nicely thank you. The cloud of plater dust settled and all I could see of him was one hand, slightly crumpled. It twitched a bit and the index finger pointed at me accusingly. His voice was a little muffled by the safe and sounded a little annoyed. In fact he repeated himself a bit.
    “…On the charge of illegal entry, theft, forgery–“‘
    Etc. etc. 🙂

    Reply
  3. My favorite opening is that of Harry Harrison’s ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’, which I suppose you could look at as a romance, if you squinted really really hard, but is usually thought of as Sci-Fi.
    It goes (any errors mine, rather than in the original):
    ‘When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It has been a money-maker–but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same somber expession and heavy foot that they all have–and the same lack of humor. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he utter a syllable.
    “James Boliver DiGriz I arrest you on the charge–”
    I was waiting for the word ‘charge’. I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop’s head. He squashed very nicely thank you. The cloud of plater dust settled and all I could see of him was one hand, slightly crumpled. It twitched a bit and the index finger pointed at me accusingly. His voice was a little muffled by the safe and sounded a little annoyed. In fact he repeated himself a bit.
    “…On the charge of illegal entry, theft, forgery–“‘
    Etc. etc. 🙂

    Reply
  4. …Oh and Charlie Stross (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/), has been teasing us that the first line of his novella ‘Trunk and Disorderly’ — upcoming in Asimov’s magazine in Jan 2007 apparently — is:
    ‘”I want you to know, darling, that I’m leaving you for another sex robot — and she’s twice the man you’ll ever be,” Laura explained as she flounced over to the front door, wafting an alluring aroma of mineral oil behind her …’

    Reply
  5. …Oh and Charlie Stross (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/), has been teasing us that the first line of his novella ‘Trunk and Disorderly’ — upcoming in Asimov’s magazine in Jan 2007 apparently — is:
    ‘”I want you to know, darling, that I’m leaving you for another sex robot — and she’s twice the man you’ll ever be,” Laura explained as she flounced over to the front door, wafting an alluring aroma of mineral oil behind her …’

    Reply
  6. …Oh and Charlie Stross (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/), has been teasing us that the first line of his novella ‘Trunk and Disorderly’ — upcoming in Asimov’s magazine in Jan 2007 apparently — is:
    ‘”I want you to know, darling, that I’m leaving you for another sex robot — and she’s twice the man you’ll ever be,” Laura explained as she flounced over to the front door, wafting an alluring aroma of mineral oil behind her …’

    Reply
  7. (Please forgive previous post. Finger flub.)
    Hi Susan/Miranda.
    This is so fun! Here are a few of my favorites. (And yes, I agree, readers buy on the first page. I sometimes buy on the first paragraph alone.)
    Since you’ve already mentioned Mary Jo’s THE BARTERED BRIDE. Here are a few of my other favorites.
    Anita Diamant THE RED TENT
    “We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust”
    Amelia Atwater-Rhodes HAWKSONG
    “I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and narrowly avoided retching from the sharp well-know stench that surrounded me.”
    Mary Jo Putney PETALS IN THE STORM
    “What the devil is going on here?”
    It was the battle cry of an angry husband; Rave would have recognized it anywhere. He sighed. Apparently there was going to be an untidy emotional scene of the sort he most loathed. Releasing the delightful lady in his arms, he turned to face the man who had just stormed into the drawing room.
    Personally, I prefer authors that either smack me hard in the face with instant conflict or jam their quills deep into my heart. But, that’s just me.
    Nina
    — the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  8. (Please forgive previous post. Finger flub.)
    Hi Susan/Miranda.
    This is so fun! Here are a few of my favorites. (And yes, I agree, readers buy on the first page. I sometimes buy on the first paragraph alone.)
    Since you’ve already mentioned Mary Jo’s THE BARTERED BRIDE. Here are a few of my other favorites.
    Anita Diamant THE RED TENT
    “We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust”
    Amelia Atwater-Rhodes HAWKSONG
    “I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and narrowly avoided retching from the sharp well-know stench that surrounded me.”
    Mary Jo Putney PETALS IN THE STORM
    “What the devil is going on here?”
    It was the battle cry of an angry husband; Rave would have recognized it anywhere. He sighed. Apparently there was going to be an untidy emotional scene of the sort he most loathed. Releasing the delightful lady in his arms, he turned to face the man who had just stormed into the drawing room.
    Personally, I prefer authors that either smack me hard in the face with instant conflict or jam their quills deep into my heart. But, that’s just me.
    Nina
    — the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  9. (Please forgive previous post. Finger flub.)
    Hi Susan/Miranda.
    This is so fun! Here are a few of my favorites. (And yes, I agree, readers buy on the first page. I sometimes buy on the first paragraph alone.)
    Since you’ve already mentioned Mary Jo’s THE BARTERED BRIDE. Here are a few of my other favorites.
    Anita Diamant THE RED TENT
    “We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust”
    Amelia Atwater-Rhodes HAWKSONG
    “I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and narrowly avoided retching from the sharp well-know stench that surrounded me.”
    Mary Jo Putney PETALS IN THE STORM
    “What the devil is going on here?”
    It was the battle cry of an angry husband; Rave would have recognized it anywhere. He sighed. Apparently there was going to be an untidy emotional scene of the sort he most loathed. Releasing the delightful lady in his arms, he turned to face the man who had just stormed into the drawing room.
    Personally, I prefer authors that either smack me hard in the face with instant conflict or jam their quills deep into my heart. But, that’s just me.
    Nina
    — the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  10. What a fun topic. I could put this here, or under Susansarah’s last article about chocolate.
    This is from FLOWERS FROM THE STORM by Laura Kinsale (as if you didn’t know) “He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate.”
    Openers don’t get much better than that, do they?

    Reply
  11. What a fun topic. I could put this here, or under Susansarah’s last article about chocolate.
    This is from FLOWERS FROM THE STORM by Laura Kinsale (as if you didn’t know) “He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate.”
    Openers don’t get much better than that, do they?

    Reply
  12. What a fun topic. I could put this here, or under Susansarah’s last article about chocolate.
    This is from FLOWERS FROM THE STORM by Laura Kinsale (as if you didn’t know) “He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate.”
    Openers don’t get much better than that, do they?

    Reply
  13. While I like to get some inkling of the characters and plot within the first, say, ten pages or so, I confess that I much, much prefer a subtle, scene-setting unfolding at the beginning of a book than the instant plunge into a maelstrom of frenetic and unexplained action that seems to be required these days. I really hate that, and I hope the fashion for it soon runs its course. I suspect (and hope) that in a few years, it will be as passé a device as the arrogant heroes of the 1980s.
    I would NEVER decide to buy a book from scanning the first page alone: a couple of pages at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end is my ‘tasting’ formula. Cover ‘art’ I ignore completely. If I didn’t, I should never have read a romance at all, since I loathe about 80% of the cover designs, and have to avert my eyes whenever I see the (*&^%$ things. Fortunately, books are for reading, not framing and hanging on the wall, so the kitschy covers can be ignored.

    Reply
  14. While I like to get some inkling of the characters and plot within the first, say, ten pages or so, I confess that I much, much prefer a subtle, scene-setting unfolding at the beginning of a book than the instant plunge into a maelstrom of frenetic and unexplained action that seems to be required these days. I really hate that, and I hope the fashion for it soon runs its course. I suspect (and hope) that in a few years, it will be as passé a device as the arrogant heroes of the 1980s.
    I would NEVER decide to buy a book from scanning the first page alone: a couple of pages at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end is my ‘tasting’ formula. Cover ‘art’ I ignore completely. If I didn’t, I should never have read a romance at all, since I loathe about 80% of the cover designs, and have to avert my eyes whenever I see the (*&^%$ things. Fortunately, books are for reading, not framing and hanging on the wall, so the kitschy covers can be ignored.

    Reply
  15. While I like to get some inkling of the characters and plot within the first, say, ten pages or so, I confess that I much, much prefer a subtle, scene-setting unfolding at the beginning of a book than the instant plunge into a maelstrom of frenetic and unexplained action that seems to be required these days. I really hate that, and I hope the fashion for it soon runs its course. I suspect (and hope) that in a few years, it will be as passé a device as the arrogant heroes of the 1980s.
    I would NEVER decide to buy a book from scanning the first page alone: a couple of pages at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end is my ‘tasting’ formula. Cover ‘art’ I ignore completely. If I didn’t, I should never have read a romance at all, since I loathe about 80% of the cover designs, and have to avert my eyes whenever I see the (*&^%$ things. Fortunately, books are for reading, not framing and hanging on the wall, so the kitschy covers can be ignored.

    Reply
  16. Great topic, Susan/Miranda! Here’s a favorite opener of mine:
    “It was only a matter of time before the wedding guests killed one another.” _The Gift_ by Julie Garwood.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  17. Great topic, Susan/Miranda! Here’s a favorite opener of mine:
    “It was only a matter of time before the wedding guests killed one another.” _The Gift_ by Julie Garwood.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  18. Great topic, Susan/Miranda! Here’s a favorite opener of mine:
    “It was only a matter of time before the wedding guests killed one another.” _The Gift_ by Julie Garwood.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  19. A couple of my favorites:
    THE DISORDERLY KNIGHTS by Dorothy Dunnett “On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt…”
    And there was a short story by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) that starts out something like “He believed that the whole world was against him, and danged if he wasn’t right.”
    (Incidentally, Will Scott was marrying his stepmother’s younger sister.)

    Reply
  20. A couple of my favorites:
    THE DISORDERLY KNIGHTS by Dorothy Dunnett “On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt…”
    And there was a short story by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) that starts out something like “He believed that the whole world was against him, and danged if he wasn’t right.”
    (Incidentally, Will Scott was marrying his stepmother’s younger sister.)

    Reply
  21. A couple of my favorites:
    THE DISORDERLY KNIGHTS by Dorothy Dunnett “On the day that his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt…”
    And there was a short story by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner) that starts out something like “He believed that the whole world was against him, and danged if he wasn’t right.”
    (Incidentally, Will Scott was marrying his stepmother’s younger sister.)

    Reply
  22. I love the topic, Susan/Miranda. In the interest of variety, I selected some of my favorites from among authors not quoted by others.
    Deborah Smith, Sweet Hush
    “I’m the fifth Hush McGillen named after the Sweet Hush apple, but the only one who has thrown a rotten Sweet Hush at the First Lady of these United States. In my own defense, I have to tell you the First Lady threw a rotten Sweet Hush at me too.”
    Nora Roberts, Hot Ice
    “He was running for his life. And it wasn’t the first time. As he raced by Tiffany’s elegant windows, he hoped it wouldn’t be his last.”
    Eloisa James, Much Ado about You
    “I am happy to announce that the rocking horses have been delivered, Your Grace. I have placed them in the nursery for your inspection. As yet, there is no sign of the children.”
    Jill Barnett, Dreaming
    “She believed in dreams, but the evening was fast becoming a nightmare.”

    Reply
  23. I love the topic, Susan/Miranda. In the interest of variety, I selected some of my favorites from among authors not quoted by others.
    Deborah Smith, Sweet Hush
    “I’m the fifth Hush McGillen named after the Sweet Hush apple, but the only one who has thrown a rotten Sweet Hush at the First Lady of these United States. In my own defense, I have to tell you the First Lady threw a rotten Sweet Hush at me too.”
    Nora Roberts, Hot Ice
    “He was running for his life. And it wasn’t the first time. As he raced by Tiffany’s elegant windows, he hoped it wouldn’t be his last.”
    Eloisa James, Much Ado about You
    “I am happy to announce that the rocking horses have been delivered, Your Grace. I have placed them in the nursery for your inspection. As yet, there is no sign of the children.”
    Jill Barnett, Dreaming
    “She believed in dreams, but the evening was fast becoming a nightmare.”

    Reply
  24. I love the topic, Susan/Miranda. In the interest of variety, I selected some of my favorites from among authors not quoted by others.
    Deborah Smith, Sweet Hush
    “I’m the fifth Hush McGillen named after the Sweet Hush apple, but the only one who has thrown a rotten Sweet Hush at the First Lady of these United States. In my own defense, I have to tell you the First Lady threw a rotten Sweet Hush at me too.”
    Nora Roberts, Hot Ice
    “He was running for his life. And it wasn’t the first time. As he raced by Tiffany’s elegant windows, he hoped it wouldn’t be his last.”
    Eloisa James, Much Ado about You
    “I am happy to announce that the rocking horses have been delivered, Your Grace. I have placed them in the nursery for your inspection. As yet, there is no sign of the children.”
    Jill Barnett, Dreaming
    “She believed in dreams, but the evening was fast becoming a nightmare.”

    Reply
  25. One of the first lines that still sticks with me to this day is Roberta Gellis’s Fires of Winter.
    “His mother was the Castle Whore.”
    (g)

    Reply
  26. One of the first lines that still sticks with me to this day is Roberta Gellis’s Fires of Winter.
    “His mother was the Castle Whore.”
    (g)

    Reply
  27. One of the first lines that still sticks with me to this day is Roberta Gellis’s Fires of Winter.
    “His mother was the Castle Whore.”
    (g)

    Reply
  28. There is a Harlequin Regency that begins something like “The Duke was stuck in the upper branches of the tree, trying not to cry.”
    (The Duke is only five years old.)

    Reply
  29. There is a Harlequin Regency that begins something like “The Duke was stuck in the upper branches of the tree, trying not to cry.”
    (The Duke is only five years old.)

    Reply
  30. There is a Harlequin Regency that begins something like “The Duke was stuck in the upper branches of the tree, trying not to cry.”
    (The Duke is only five years old.)

    Reply
  31. The Challenge, by Edith Layton:
    “It was a peculiar bordello. The English gentleman was in a position to know.”
    This is my husband’s favorite opening line to any book. He read it over my shoulder and remains intrigued to this day.
    I love MJ Davidson’s openers. Here’s the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, “When I’d been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job.” The fact that she goes on to get a job selling shoes at Macy’s is just hilarious.

    Reply
  32. The Challenge, by Edith Layton:
    “It was a peculiar bordello. The English gentleman was in a position to know.”
    This is my husband’s favorite opening line to any book. He read it over my shoulder and remains intrigued to this day.
    I love MJ Davidson’s openers. Here’s the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, “When I’d been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job.” The fact that she goes on to get a job selling shoes at Macy’s is just hilarious.

    Reply
  33. The Challenge, by Edith Layton:
    “It was a peculiar bordello. The English gentleman was in a position to know.”
    This is my husband’s favorite opening line to any book. He read it over my shoulder and remains intrigued to this day.
    I love MJ Davidson’s openers. Here’s the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, “When I’d been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job.” The fact that she goes on to get a job selling shoes at Macy’s is just hilarious.

    Reply
  34. Selina said: ‘Here’s the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, “When I’d been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job.” ‘
    How very different we all are! You see, that’s an opening line that would make me reluctant even to check other pages, so strongly does it repel me. Humour is an area in which there are vast individual differences, and I am sure that some of the things that I find amusing leave others blank-faced and bemused.

    Reply
  35. Selina said: ‘Here’s the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, “When I’d been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job.” ‘
    How very different we all are! You see, that’s an opening line that would make me reluctant even to check other pages, so strongly does it repel me. Humour is an area in which there are vast individual differences, and I am sure that some of the things that I find amusing leave others blank-faced and bemused.

    Reply
  36. Selina said: ‘Here’s the opening line from Undead and Unemployed, “When I’d been dead for about three months, I decided it was past time to get a job.” ‘
    How very different we all are! You see, that’s an opening line that would make me reluctant even to check other pages, so strongly does it repel me. Humour is an area in which there are vast individual differences, and I am sure that some of the things that I find amusing leave others blank-faced and bemused.

    Reply
  37. As to actual opening lines, I like something a good deal more subtle than is favoured by the present fashion, and I like to read at least a page of scene-setting build-up before being flung into the action.
    Here is the opening line of Donna Leon’s ‘A noble radiance’ (1999):
    ‘There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dried grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites’.
    Dull? No, to me, utterly intriguing and atmospheric. Leon establishes the place, the landscape, the atmosphere, the history, for two pages. On page three, the body that the reader is, by then, expecting to be found in that field, is discovered. By that point, we have been fully drawn into the setting, fully involved in the suspense and tension. It is like a long, slow, zoom shot, focusing ever closer on the place where the ploughshare lifts the first bone.
    To me, this is far, far more compelling that being flung into the middle of a conversation between people whose names I do not yet know, or worse, the middle of some violent action between characters who are strangers to me, in the first line or two.
    Call me eccentric.

    Reply
  38. As to actual opening lines, I like something a good deal more subtle than is favoured by the present fashion, and I like to read at least a page of scene-setting build-up before being flung into the action.
    Here is the opening line of Donna Leon’s ‘A noble radiance’ (1999):
    ‘There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dried grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites’.
    Dull? No, to me, utterly intriguing and atmospheric. Leon establishes the place, the landscape, the atmosphere, the history, for two pages. On page three, the body that the reader is, by then, expecting to be found in that field, is discovered. By that point, we have been fully drawn into the setting, fully involved in the suspense and tension. It is like a long, slow, zoom shot, focusing ever closer on the place where the ploughshare lifts the first bone.
    To me, this is far, far more compelling that being flung into the middle of a conversation between people whose names I do not yet know, or worse, the middle of some violent action between characters who are strangers to me, in the first line or two.
    Call me eccentric.

    Reply
  39. As to actual opening lines, I like something a good deal more subtle than is favoured by the present fashion, and I like to read at least a page of scene-setting build-up before being flung into the action.
    Here is the opening line of Donna Leon’s ‘A noble radiance’ (1999):
    ‘There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dried grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites’.
    Dull? No, to me, utterly intriguing and atmospheric. Leon establishes the place, the landscape, the atmosphere, the history, for two pages. On page three, the body that the reader is, by then, expecting to be found in that field, is discovered. By that point, we have been fully drawn into the setting, fully involved in the suspense and tension. It is like a long, slow, zoom shot, focusing ever closer on the place where the ploughshare lifts the first bone.
    To me, this is far, far more compelling that being flung into the middle of a conversation between people whose names I do not yet know, or worse, the middle of some violent action between characters who are strangers to me, in the first line or two.
    Call me eccentric.

    Reply
  40. I used to love long, luxurious openings to books too. Though I lamented their passing, I have to admit I’m partial to the barn burners now.
    I find I now like books that start with a bang. Not an actual one. I read a few that did,and though they got my attention, they made me start giggling.
    But, Oh my lamentable memory! I can’t come up with many great ones right now.
    Still, the great Terry Paratchett almost never goes wrong (that is,once he stopped explaining the great Turtle, which he always did at the beginning of his early books)
    Just picked one up at random, and it’s hard to beat, isn’t it?
    “The wind howled. The storm crackled on the mountains. Lightning prodded the crags like an old man trying to get an elusive blackberry pip out of his false teeth.”
    MASKERADE

    Reply
  41. I used to love long, luxurious openings to books too. Though I lamented their passing, I have to admit I’m partial to the barn burners now.
    I find I now like books that start with a bang. Not an actual one. I read a few that did,and though they got my attention, they made me start giggling.
    But, Oh my lamentable memory! I can’t come up with many great ones right now.
    Still, the great Terry Paratchett almost never goes wrong (that is,once he stopped explaining the great Turtle, which he always did at the beginning of his early books)
    Just picked one up at random, and it’s hard to beat, isn’t it?
    “The wind howled. The storm crackled on the mountains. Lightning prodded the crags like an old man trying to get an elusive blackberry pip out of his false teeth.”
    MASKERADE

    Reply
  42. I used to love long, luxurious openings to books too. Though I lamented their passing, I have to admit I’m partial to the barn burners now.
    I find I now like books that start with a bang. Not an actual one. I read a few that did,and though they got my attention, they made me start giggling.
    But, Oh my lamentable memory! I can’t come up with many great ones right now.
    Still, the great Terry Paratchett almost never goes wrong (that is,once he stopped explaining the great Turtle, which he always did at the beginning of his early books)
    Just picked one up at random, and it’s hard to beat, isn’t it?
    “The wind howled. The storm crackled on the mountains. Lightning prodded the crags like an old man trying to get an elusive blackberry pip out of his false teeth.”
    MASKERADE

    Reply
  43. Great topic. I am one of those who reads a first page in order to decide whether or not I’ll like a book. I’m partial to a certain writing style. (long sentences,as I mentioned in a previous post) — and something of the feeling of Jane Austen.
    Some favorites are the following:
    I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defense I must say that it was an engrossing book,…..
    Laurie King “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”.
    When two gentleman are closely related by blood, they do not usually address each other with formality. In this case, however, the gentleman in question were first cousins once removed, the younger had come from nowhere to inherit a title and fortune that the older had assumed would be his, and their relationship had been formally announced moments after they had come within a sword slice of killing one another.
    “The Rake” Mary Jo Putney.
    I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, know to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot”, or “That Claudius”, or “Claudius the Stammerer” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius”, am now about to write this strange history of my life…..
    “I, Claudius” Robert Graves.
    Moments before the stagecoach overturned, Judith Law was deeply immersed in a daydream htat had effectively obliterated the unpleasant nature of the present reality.
    Slightly Wicked Mary Balogh
    There is also the first page of “Romancing Mister Bridgerton, which is wonderful, but longer than I care to type right now.
    I think it a certain mildly humorous, somewhat distanced voice that I feel drawn to..
    Merry

    Reply
  44. Great topic. I am one of those who reads a first page in order to decide whether or not I’ll like a book. I’m partial to a certain writing style. (long sentences,as I mentioned in a previous post) — and something of the feeling of Jane Austen.
    Some favorites are the following:
    I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defense I must say that it was an engrossing book,…..
    Laurie King “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”.
    When two gentleman are closely related by blood, they do not usually address each other with formality. In this case, however, the gentleman in question were first cousins once removed, the younger had come from nowhere to inherit a title and fortune that the older had assumed would be his, and their relationship had been formally announced moments after they had come within a sword slice of killing one another.
    “The Rake” Mary Jo Putney.
    I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, know to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot”, or “That Claudius”, or “Claudius the Stammerer” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius”, am now about to write this strange history of my life…..
    “I, Claudius” Robert Graves.
    Moments before the stagecoach overturned, Judith Law was deeply immersed in a daydream htat had effectively obliterated the unpleasant nature of the present reality.
    Slightly Wicked Mary Balogh
    There is also the first page of “Romancing Mister Bridgerton, which is wonderful, but longer than I care to type right now.
    I think it a certain mildly humorous, somewhat distanced voice that I feel drawn to..
    Merry

    Reply
  45. Great topic. I am one of those who reads a first page in order to decide whether or not I’ll like a book. I’m partial to a certain writing style. (long sentences,as I mentioned in a previous post) — and something of the feeling of Jane Austen.
    Some favorites are the following:
    I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defense I must say that it was an engrossing book,…..
    Laurie King “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”.
    When two gentleman are closely related by blood, they do not usually address each other with formality. In this case, however, the gentleman in question were first cousins once removed, the younger had come from nowhere to inherit a title and fortune that the older had assumed would be his, and their relationship had been formally announced moments after they had come within a sword slice of killing one another.
    “The Rake” Mary Jo Putney.
    I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, know to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot”, or “That Claudius”, or “Claudius the Stammerer” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius”, am now about to write this strange history of my life…..
    “I, Claudius” Robert Graves.
    Moments before the stagecoach overturned, Judith Law was deeply immersed in a daydream htat had effectively obliterated the unpleasant nature of the present reality.
    Slightly Wicked Mary Balogh
    There is also the first page of “Romancing Mister Bridgerton, which is wonderful, but longer than I care to type right now.
    I think it a certain mildly humorous, somewhat distanced voice that I feel drawn to..
    Merry

    Reply
  46. The Cinderellas were having way too much fun while the Ugly Stepsisters were away at the ball, crushing their feet into unfitting slippers and stumbling over spike heels.
    Great topic but I’m too tired to dig through my book stacks to find favorite beginning lines. I adore a great opening line, but I have to agree that it’s not always suitable for all books. The line needs to reflect the type of book it is, and if it’s a deeply reflective book or a book about setting or character, the line should reflect that. A punchy, humorous line ought to show that the book will be humorous, not angsty or reflective.
    But my eyes are crossed with exhaustion, so I could be rambling in my sleep.

    Reply
  47. The Cinderellas were having way too much fun while the Ugly Stepsisters were away at the ball, crushing their feet into unfitting slippers and stumbling over spike heels.
    Great topic but I’m too tired to dig through my book stacks to find favorite beginning lines. I adore a great opening line, but I have to agree that it’s not always suitable for all books. The line needs to reflect the type of book it is, and if it’s a deeply reflective book or a book about setting or character, the line should reflect that. A punchy, humorous line ought to show that the book will be humorous, not angsty or reflective.
    But my eyes are crossed with exhaustion, so I could be rambling in my sleep.

    Reply
  48. The Cinderellas were having way too much fun while the Ugly Stepsisters were away at the ball, crushing their feet into unfitting slippers and stumbling over spike heels.
    Great topic but I’m too tired to dig through my book stacks to find favorite beginning lines. I adore a great opening line, but I have to agree that it’s not always suitable for all books. The line needs to reflect the type of book it is, and if it’s a deeply reflective book or a book about setting or character, the line should reflect that. A punchy, humorous line ought to show that the book will be humorous, not angsty or reflective.
    But my eyes are crossed with exhaustion, so I could be rambling in my sleep.

    Reply
  49. Tigress, you ARE eccentric, but I love you anyway. Here is one that perennially delights me. If you need it identified, fie upon you!
    THE Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!’

    Reply
  50. Tigress, you ARE eccentric, but I love you anyway. Here is one that perennially delights me. If you need it identified, fie upon you!
    THE Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!’

    Reply
  51. Tigress, you ARE eccentric, but I love you anyway. Here is one that perennially delights me. If you need it identified, fie upon you!
    THE Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!’

    Reply
  52. I pick up books for on a bunch of different reasons. Sometimes it is an author that I always buy no matter what, sometimes it is the blurb on the back and sometimes it is the first page or so. Here are some of my favourite first lines:
    JEWELS OF THE SUN by Nora Roberts: “Obviously, without question, she’d lost her mind. Being a psychologist, she ought to know…”
    A SECRET LOVE by Stephanie Laurens: Disaster stared her in the face. Again…”
    ENCHANTED by Elizabeth Lowell: “”Which will it be,” Ariane whispered to herself, “a wedding or a wake?”…”
    SILK AND SHADOWS by Mary Jo Putney: “He called himself Peregrine, the wanderer, and he came to London for revenge…”
    These are just a few of the many I could add.

    Reply
  53. I pick up books for on a bunch of different reasons. Sometimes it is an author that I always buy no matter what, sometimes it is the blurb on the back and sometimes it is the first page or so. Here are some of my favourite first lines:
    JEWELS OF THE SUN by Nora Roberts: “Obviously, without question, she’d lost her mind. Being a psychologist, she ought to know…”
    A SECRET LOVE by Stephanie Laurens: Disaster stared her in the face. Again…”
    ENCHANTED by Elizabeth Lowell: “”Which will it be,” Ariane whispered to herself, “a wedding or a wake?”…”
    SILK AND SHADOWS by Mary Jo Putney: “He called himself Peregrine, the wanderer, and he came to London for revenge…”
    These are just a few of the many I could add.

    Reply
  54. I pick up books for on a bunch of different reasons. Sometimes it is an author that I always buy no matter what, sometimes it is the blurb on the back and sometimes it is the first page or so. Here are some of my favourite first lines:
    JEWELS OF THE SUN by Nora Roberts: “Obviously, without question, she’d lost her mind. Being a psychologist, she ought to know…”
    A SECRET LOVE by Stephanie Laurens: Disaster stared her in the face. Again…”
    ENCHANTED by Elizabeth Lowell: “”Which will it be,” Ariane whispered to herself, “a wedding or a wake?”…”
    SILK AND SHADOWS by Mary Jo Putney: “He called himself Peregrine, the wanderer, and he came to London for revenge…”
    These are just a few of the many I could add.

    Reply
  55. Of course I can identify it, Tal! I haven’t read it for years. Maybe I ought to re-read it as something to take my mind off the here and now.

    Reply
  56. Of course I can identify it, Tal! I haven’t read it for years. Maybe I ought to re-read it as something to take my mind off the here and now.

    Reply
  57. Of course I can identify it, Tal! I haven’t read it for years. Maybe I ought to re-read it as something to take my mind off the here and now.

    Reply
  58. Tigress, couldn’t you tell that was a plural “you”? OF COURSE I knew that you personally would recognize it!
    And given your feelings about how the ancient gods should be treated in modern fiction, I think you’d appreciate “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” all over again.

    Reply
  59. Tigress, couldn’t you tell that was a plural “you”? OF COURSE I knew that you personally would recognize it!
    And given your feelings about how the ancient gods should be treated in modern fiction, I think you’d appreciate “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” all over again.

    Reply
  60. Tigress, couldn’t you tell that was a plural “you”? OF COURSE I knew that you personally would recognize it!
    And given your feelings about how the ancient gods should be treated in modern fiction, I think you’d appreciate “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” all over again.

    Reply

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