First Lines in Fiction

The opening words of your novel may be all a prospective buyer will read before making their purchasing decision. Are yours an opening salvo; an opening punch; or an opening sigh, easily dismissed?

They will also be the first words an agent or an editor reads when they see the sample chapters you have pitched.

Every story starts somewhere. Even “once upon a time” is a beginning. I thought it would be fun to have you read some opening lines from ten different books written by a few of our clients. (These were chosen completely at random as we have nearly 1,000 published novels by clients to choose from in the office!)

See if you can match the words with the title and author. Your only prize is intellectual satisfaction for being well read. (I’ll post the answers later today.)

Meanwhile, try to think how they are different. How they suggest the genre. Some may even hint at the setting. What is being set up? What intrigue? What action?

I’m not asking if you like the words. Instead, what makes them work? These were published by major publishers. Some are from award-winning novelists (like the Christy Award, the Carol Award, and the RITA). I’ve numbered them to help you with trying to figure out which one is which when guessing the author.


(1)      Julia Foster lifted her gaze to the clear October sky as a lark swooped past. Her step slowed and her thoughts took flight, following the bird as it dipped into the golden trees beyond the meadow. If only she could fly away, back to the familiar life and cherished friends she had left behind in India. But that dream would have to wait.


(2)     I collect words.

I keep them in a box in my mind. I’d like to keep them in a real box, something pretty, maybe a shoe box covered with flowered wrapping paper. I’d write my words on scraps of paper and then put them in the box. Whenever I wanted, I’d open the box and pick up the papers, reading and feeling the words all at once. Then I could hide the box.

But the words are safer in my mind. There, he can’t take them.


(3)     I couldn’t take my eyes off the casket. It was expensive, and it glowed, resting among the candles and the heaps of flowers. It so perfectly expressed the man inside.


(4)      At least they couldn’t fire her.

Andrea Sullivan propped her elbows on the bar and buried her head in her hands. How had things gone wrong so quickly? One minute she’d been on the verge of closing a half-million-dollar deal. The next, she’d nearly broken her hand on the jaw of a client who thought her company’s offerings extended to favors she had no intention of delivering. Three years of working her way up the ranks toward VP of Sales all down the tubes because one man couldn’t keep his hands to himself.


(5)      Fire ruptured the black veil of night. A pillar of orange and yellow roared upward, thirty meters, leaving a trail of smoke, ash, and debris in its wake. Metal groaned and heaved, collapsing in exhausted defeat. Screams ripped the air, their primal howl propelling him across Kandahar Airfield.


(6)      I watched my diaries burn.

Pages curled in on themselves, like spider legs accepting death. My past–my stories–turned to ash and tendrils of smoke. But I would not weep for them. The Bolsheviks could take far more precious things from me. I would not give them my tears.


(7)      Cold.

So cold.

Every breath came out like a faint wisp, a lingering spirit within the sanctuary, only to evaporate into the frozen air.


(8)      Oh, this was a bad idea.

Epically, abysmally, horrendously bad. The kind of betrayal that just might end any hope of resurrecting Sierra’s already tattered relationship with her former boss/friend/the man she couldn’t seem to stop loving.


(9)      Melodia Stuart stood before her father in his study. She tried not to shiver. Winter’s chill hung in the room despite flames burning in the gray stone fireplace. Shivering would indicate weakness, which Father despised. Since he considered the space a man’s domain, Sir Cuthbert Stuart seldom summoned her there. Her requested presence bespoke the profound importance of his news.


(10)     The sense of dread that began with Becky’s email pressed Gillian Short deep into her seat as passengers filed past her down the aisle, a line of eye-rubbing yawns and bouncing impatience.



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Via: OnlineSchools.org

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Go in with realistic expectations.

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