"That's torn it!" said Lord Peter Wimsey.
Last week I wrote the closing line of the current manuscript, which grew out of the book organically—and went through changes until it seemed a perfect closure. The last line or two is usually easier than the first lines, and now that I’m thinking ahead to the next book, I’m thinking about that opening line. Sometimes I just know it early on and it sticks—the words pop into my head even as the ideas are just beginning. And sometimes it changes as I search for the way into the story, whether it’s a descriptive line for tone or mood, a narrative line to enter an action situation or a setting, or a little dialogue to evoke a character quickly. I’m not just looking for the intriguing teaser line to pull the reader in—I want that first line to have some immediacy and set up some curiosity to open that door and give the reader a glimpse of what’s inside. One line does not always complete the opening hook –it might be a few as long as it rolls along and takes the reader with it.
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 if I had opened it, but I haven’t done that in a long while. If I'm not caught by a book quickly, I'm out and on to the next book. But often I will go back later and give it another try, even years later, and 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 there 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.
—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 a favorite among my own books:
The Sword Maiden Susan King
So there you go, a few story portals — what's your favorite opening line in a novel?