"That's torn it!" said Lord Peter Wimsey.
Susan here, and that's a great start for a great book–The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers.
When I write the closing line of a book, it grows organically until it feels like just the right note to end the story. The last couple of lines can be easier than the opening line. Sometimes it comes to me early and entire, and it sticks. With other books, it changes again and again as I search for the way into the story–a descriptive line that sets a tone or a mood, a narrative line to open an action situation, or a little dialogue that evokes a character or a situation quickly. I looking for an intriguing line to catch the reader's interest–and more, I want that first line to be unique, immediate, intriguing. I want the reader to step right in, to catch a glimpse of what's inside the book. One line is not always enough for an opening hook, it might take more. But it's a crucial sentence, the magnet that pulls the reader further, line to line, page to page, into the story.
That proverbial hook—the line or few lines that pull you into another world, catch your attention, tap your emotion or stir your curiosity …and invites you to read on to find out more is all-important to the writer and the reader. If it doesn't quite hit the mark, the reader may bow out quickly. I used to slog through a book once I opened it, but I gave that up a long time ago. If a book doesn't catch me quickly, I'm out and away and on to the next book. Often I'll go back and give it another try, and often enough discover that if I just push on, there’s a great read there. Sometimes the hook is a subtle thing. It doesn’t always grab immediately, yet there is a quality that makes the reader curious to continue.
It was a dark and stormy night. — A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle
A great book might have a deceptively simple opening line to a deep and wonderful story. It might tell you some small yet significant clue about character, situation, setting. Sometimes it is just the power or beauty of the author's voice that brings you along. Simple or complex, hang on – you may discover an amazing world within.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
—The Hobbit, J.R.R. TolkeinPublish
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
Or the opening might be layered and longer with elements of the whole book hidden in that first sentence.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. –
–Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.
— Captain Blood, Rafael Sabatini
When the east wind blows up Helford River the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores.
– Frenchman’s Creek, Daphne du Maurier
Some opening lines set up tone, character and a key situation all in a few words:
When the girl came rushing up the steps, I decided she was wearing far too many clothes.
— The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis
Or it could be subtle and intriguing:
It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.
— The Moonspinners, Mary Stewart
The lad had the deep, burning eyes of a zealot.
— The Prince of Midnight, Laura Kinsale
It could open a narrative that draws you along, always wanting to know more.
I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the last time out of the door of my father's house.
— Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
And I’ll toss in one of my favorites among books I've written:
The Sword Maiden Susan King
So there you go, a few story portals — what are some of your favorite opening lines in novels you've read (or written!)?