My Favourite Book Beginnings

Ours is a culture that can’t seem to focus much anymore.  Therefore, writers have to get the attention of readers right away or risk losing them immediately.  Some writers have horrible openings to their novels and others, like the ones listed here are just the sort that grab your attention right away.  Not necessarily in the very first line, but usually in the first few.  Here are a few of my personal favourites:

“Ravens!  Always the ravens.  They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead.  Even before Rike had finished taking fingers from hands, and rings from fingers.”  –Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence

This is certainly an opener that makes you think.  Why are there dead people around a church?  Why is the narrator watching this mysterious Rike plundering the bodies?  Is the narrator one of the people who killed the church-goers or is he an innocent bystander?  This is the perfect example of shocking the reader into continuing on with the story.  How do I know?  Because it worked on me, a generally cynical reader.

“If I close my eyes, and breathe to the rolling rhythm of the sea, I can still remember that long ago day.  Harsh, cold, and lifeless it was, as empty of promise as my lungs were empty of air.” The Lost Years of Merlin, T. A. Baron

This is sort of a more gradual opening than Prince of Thorns but it really does pull you in.  You can tell the narrator is reflecting on a time where he nearly drowned and he goes on to write of his old life with such sorrow and longing that you can’t help but keep reading.  The reflection only goes on for two paragraphs before we get to the present, but the opening packs a punch.

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

This one is a classic.  Why is our little corner of the universe so unfashionable?  It’s obvious that there are other lifeforms out there who consider our solar system a backwater, so what are they going to do about it?  Will we find out more about these advanced beings?  Does the action take place on Earth or elsewhere?  This opening packs a punch in that it raises more questions than it answers, drawing the reader in and making them read on to find the answer.

“Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot—in this case, my brother Shaun—deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.”  Feed, Mira Grant

This is one of the very few opening lines that made me laugh.  So of course I read on!  And the thing is, I laughed but at the same time there was a hint of danger.  The zombie outbreak was twenty-six years ago?  What shape is humanity in at this point?  Will Shaun survive poking a zombie with a stick?  Who is our wonderfully snarky narrator?

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.  I visited my wife’s grave.  Then I joined the army.”  –Old Man’s War, John Scalzi

The first two sentences of Old Man’s War seem pretty normal.  Then you read the third sentence and get thrown for a loop.  That’s the kind of beginning I’m rather fond of because I like to speculate what the rest of the story will be like based on that opening.  It creates a bit of suspense and a lot of curiosity so that’s why this opening is one of my favourites, right up there with Feed.

These are just some of my favourite book beginnings that I can think of right at this moment, but there are so many more I could do several articles.  What I want to know is: What do you think of these particular beginnings?  Do you have a favourite opening line/beginning paragraph of a novel?  Why is it your favourite?  Do you fall for certain types of hooks more than others?

4 comments

  1. Paul G. Leroux (@PolyglOttawa)

    The first line of George Orwell’s 1984 is a favorite of mine: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” I also like the beginning of “Gone with the Wind”: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when they were under the spell of her charm, as were the Tarleton twins.” There’s Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”: “Last night, I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” And, lastly, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that any young man in possession of a fortune must be in search of a wife.” (Quotes approximate, from memory)

    • Carrie Slager

      You like all the classics, that’s fine. I enjoyed some of them too and there’s usually a reason they’re around still today. With this post I wanted to showcase some great beginnings besides the tired old ones every critic touts as awesome. There are great beginnings in modern fiction as well.

  2. Kelley

    Oh, I love this post! That opening for Prince of Thorns makes me want to pick up the book and start reading right now! I wish I could remember some of my favorite beginnings, because I know I’ve got a few. If I remember them, I’ll come back and share! 🙂

    • Carrie Slager

      I can’t recommend Prince of Thorns highly enough! It’s just that awesome.

      And if you remember some of your favourite beginnings, I’d love to read them. Maybe I’ll find some new books to read. 🙂

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