Stephen King (horror writer extraordinaire) says that a story’s opening lines should “invite the reader to begin the story”.
“It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
Of course what one person wants to know differs tremendously from what another person wants to know. So my top ten opening lines, the sentences that would have me keen to continue reading, probably differ tremendously from yours. The only way to find out is to compare!
Here, I’ll start. My top ten favourite opening lines (not necessarily from my top ten favourite books and in no particular order) are:
“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.” The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
“No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.” Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“I did it. You’re really here. An astronaut. Jesus.” – Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers
“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.” Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
“There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name.” Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
First the colours. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. HERE IS A SMALL FACT You are going to die.” The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner, of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; he got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterward at York; from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Keutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called, nay, we call ourselves, and write our name, Crusoe; and so my companions always called me.” Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.” The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Would you be keen to read any of these stories based on their opening lines?
Which are your own favourite opening lines?
Let me know in the comments below, or online somewhere!
And thanks to my author buddy Simon Dillon for the idea (his top ten sentences are over here)!