What’s Your Favorite Opening Line to a Book? (& Win a Free Copy of Novel Writing)

Over on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, Merry Jones’s looks at How to Write a Great Opening Line. In her analysis, she shares what she considers eight of the best opening lines in fiction. My favorite from her list is “It was a slow Sunday afternoon, the kind Walden loved,” from Ken Follet’s The Man from St. Petersburg. It immediately sets the scene and gives you a glimpse of the main character’s personality.

My favorite opening line of all-time, though, comes from a book that really helped shape my adolescent years (for the better). It hooked me in and I wasn’t able to put it down until I had finished it, which is the No. 1 key to any great opening line. Here the line that pulled me in:

—J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye

If all opening lines were as captivating as Salinger’s, I’m not sure I’d ever get anything accomplished around my house—much to the chagrin of my wife.

Now that you’ve seen mine (and possibly Merry Jones’s), what I want to know is: What’s your favorite opening line to a book? Post it below in the comments section for a chance to win a free copy of Novel Writing, a 128-page magazine packed with advice on how to hook readers from chapter one, create unforgettable characters, get published and more. I’ll pick one commenter at random from my trusty hat. Plus, get an additional chance to win a free issue just by tweeting this:

What’s Your Favorite Opening Line to a Book? (& Win a Free Copy of @WritersDigest’s Novel Writing) – http://bit.ly/QhuJSS (via @BrianKlems)

Deadline to enter for a chance to win: September 24.

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243 thoughts on “What’s Your Favorite Opening Line to a Book? (& Win a Free Copy of Novel Writing)

  1. Unhappened

    Chiliad by Simon Otius, at unhappened [dot] com, is almost wholly written in notable sentences. Here is the opening sentence:

    “To avoid giving the impression, – most particularly here at the very gatehouse of this, for the most part, linear narrating of what is believed a remarkable enough history, one that may, — making its slow but inexorable way to credit, — challenge the very tenets of traditional biography, – that words, – generally believed good-fellows, merry men nearly all, – are already right eager, – by building a labyrinth of intricable mystery, – to confound the unwary reader at the very onset : it will prove very useful if a few, simple, but important facts, concerning the family Troke, and their seat, are first supplied.”

  2. Vanessa P

    This darkness troubles me. I yearn for the light. This silence is so deep. I long for voices, the drumming of rain, the whistle of wind, music. Why are you being so cruel to me? Let me see. Let me hear. Let me live. I beg of you. I am so lonely in this bottomless darkness. So lonely. Lost.

    Dean Koontz, Demon Seed, page 1

  3. slongo

    “If I had cared to live, I would have died.”
    Opening line from John Myers Myers’ fantasy novel, Silverlock.

    Main character, A. Clarence Shandon, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. His transformation by misadventure into the title character was a riveting read thirty-five years ago. Of course, now I’ll have to dig up a copy to revisit this old friend.

  4. esparhawk

    For the better part of my childhood, my professional aspirations were simple–I wanted to be an intergalactic princess. I didn’t care much about ruling hordes of people. Mostly I wanted to wear the cape and the sexy boots and carry a cool weapon.

    Janet Evanovich’s SEVEN UP

  5. Karen Wyle

    Two of my favorites, from Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God:

    “On December 7, 2059, Emilio Sandoz was released from the isolation ward of Salvator Mundi Hospital in the middle of the night and transported in a bread van to the Jesuit Residence at Number 5 Borgo Santo Spirito, a few minutes’ walk across St. Peter’s Square from the Vatican.” (That’s the beginning of Chapter 1 of The Sparrow. I also like the first sentence of the Prologue: “It was predictable, in hindsight.”)

    “Sweating and nauseated, Father Emilio Sandoz sat on the edge of his bed with his head in what was left of his hands.” (Prelude, Children of God)

  6. Heatherrae

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
    ~ Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

    Forget Jane Austen. Seth had me at “it”.

  7. dykesy

    When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.

    Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry.

  8. m.e

    He flew into Paris, the city of his birth, on a cold wet November afternoon. He flew in from Equatorial Africa wearing green polyester pants, a white T-shirt that posed the suspect question, “Have You Eaten Your Honey Today?” and a machine-knitted cardigan whose color, he had finally decided, was mauve.

    Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas

  9. j sengpiehl

    My favorite first line from a novel is from Mary Stewart’s Touch Not The Cat:

    “My lover came to me on the last night in April, with a message and a warning that sent me home to him.”

  10. soulfire1278

    “By ten forty-five it was all over.”- The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck. Easily one of my favorite classical books of all time. I was only sixteen when I read it and I remember being so moved by it. This line is an amazing hook, how can you not want to read more of it? It’s one of his shorter ones but it’s so powerful I don’t think it gets enough credit sometimes.

    I also have a huge soft spot for “”Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I saw someone else had posted that line though. It’s funny, it has a great voice and you start to feel a bit of ‘yuck’ to them straight away. I found Harry Potter when I was fifteen but only because my father was really sick with a rare type of Lymphoma. Teenagers can’t cope with regular life as it is and something like that was a bit much for me. I threw myself into Harry Potter because it was so far from reality and it gave me something to loose myself in. Along the way I learned how to be strong and push through everything that was going on. I owe my sanity to those books.

  11. MJ Scafati

    I have three that absolutely sucked me in:
    “TRUE! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”
    -Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart
    “‘Do your neighbors burn one another alive?'” was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.
    -Neal Stephenson, Anathem
    “When it happens, this is what happens: I shoot myself.
    Not, you know, my self self. I shoot my future self. He steps out of a time machine, introduces himself as Charles Yu. What else am I supposed to do? I kill him. I kill my own future.”
    -Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

    https://twitter.com/MJ_Scafati

  12. Rebecca

    “Start with a blank surface. It doesn’t have to be paper or canvas, but I feel it should be white. We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing.”
    – Stephen King, Duma Key.

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