Thursday, September 24, 2009


The opening paragraph, or even sentence, in any book will set the tone for that book, and lay down certain expectations for the reader. No one likes a weak opening. It’s like a limp handshake—sweaty, boneless, and something you can’t wait to get away from at the first opportunity.

Consider these openers:

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Marley was dead to begin with.” -- A Christmas Carol

“Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” – Gone with the Wind

Consider a book’s opening very much like a pick-up line. If it doesn’t grab you or is charming and exciting, your interest probably won’t be captured and you’ll walk away to be potentially tempted by a new one.

Here’s the opening paragraph for my work-in-progress:

Brilliant light from the Harvest Moon streamed through the window, competing with the weak glow from the candle on her worktable. Rachel Goode snipped off the last thread and placed the scissors into a basket near her elbow.


Standing, she shook out the length of the black velvet, pleased with how the dress had turned out. Round, full skirt that fell to the floor in elegant waves, faint glimmers of silver thread gleamed in the folds. The bodice was a masterpiece of scooped neck trimmed with runic symbols in the same silver thread, designed to catch an admiring gaze.

Kinda cool and spooky and intriguing. Well, I don’t really know if I like it yet…


The thesis paper of your whole novel. But nothing beats them. From the moment I type the opening sequence of a story, I feel such a rush, this wonderful can’t-be-beat feeling that I’m hovering on the verge of quite possibly the most wild ride I’ve ever created. I can’t wait to see where my characters go, why they get into trouble, how they’ll get out of it, when will they kiss, is there going to be a happy ending?


Just one of the aspects of writing that I love. So, as I post this blog, I’m rounding the end of chapter one with this newest novella with high hopes and even higher expectations. See you at the end.

What’s the best opening of one of your favorite books you’ve read or written?

1 comment:

Nerine Dorman said...

Beginnings are very near and dear to my heart. I've been working with writers as an editor and within writers' groups for quite a few years now and every so often we workshop beginnings.

One of my favourite exercises is telling authors to look at their three favourite books then read only the opening sentence.

Then we discuss why this opening sentence is so effective.

One of the most classic opening lines, IMO, is Stephen King's The Gunslinger, of the famous The Dark Tower series:

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

You don't get more powerful than that.