Opening Lines

Reminder: Comment for a chance to win in Sunday’s giveaway (details to the right). Up this week: a critique of your first chapter–any genre, plus a great new book journal.

Have you ever bought/read a book based only on its great opening lines? Opening lines are critical. I have tossed many back on the shelf because of a bad opening. I figure if the author can’t nail the opening paragraph, the rest of it will tank as well.

Here’s a book I bought based only on the opening graph: Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist:

“Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”

It might be one of my favorite opening paragraphs of all time. Is it one of my favorite books of all time? No!

It was entertaining, unusual, even bizarre. I hated the ending. I didn’t finish it with a sense of profound loss and an urge to start over, as I do with the books I really love. But it convinced me to buy an unknown book by an unknown author and read it. In hardback, no less.

So, I’m fearful of opening lines in my own work. But here they are, anyway. The first was probably rewritten a hundred times. The second and third will most assuredly change, because they’ve only been rewritten a half-dozen times so far.

A secluded Louisiana bayou. A sexy pirate. Seduction and deceit. My Friday afternoon had the makings of a great romantic adventure, at least in theory.
In practice, angry mosquitoes were using me for target practice, humidity had ruined any prayer of a good hair day, and the pirate in question―the infamous Jean Lafitte―was two-hundred years old, armed, and carrying a six-pack of Paradise condoms in assorted fruit flavors.

Jean Lafitte looked really good for a dead guy. He draped his six-foot-two-inch frame across an armchair in his luxury French Quarter suite and waited for me to start my spiel, a ghost of a smile playing on his lips.

Galen Murphy drilled a foot on the brake, shaken by the mental S.O.S. screaming through his head. His tires squealed on the wet, dark road as the car spun and came to an abrupt stop nose-first in a shallow ditch.
Something had happened to Mark.

So, what are the opening lines of the best book you read recently?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

5 thoughts on “Opening Lines

  1. I really liked your Royal Street opening! I think one of the best opening paragraphs was in Mystic River:

    When Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus were kids, their fathers worked together at the Coleman Candy plant and carried the stench of warm chocolate back home with them. It became a permanent character of their clothes, the beds they slept in, the vinyl backs of their car seats. Sean’s kitchen smelled like a Fudgsicle, his bathroom like a Coleman Chew-Chew bar. By the time they were eleven, Sean and Jimmy had developed a hatred of sweets so total that they took their coffee black for the rest of their lives and never ate dessert.

    Fun topic!

    Kathy Teel
    (from your Writing and Publishing Yahoo group)

  2. One opening line that I really like is from Outlander: It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.

    Great topic!


  3. Oh, foo! I had a great comment, but had to switch browsers and lost it.

    Hi, Suzanne,

    You’re right, that was a shameless plug! Of course, don’t we all need them? 🙂

    I’m posting this in part because you’ve already seen my first chapter, but it’s changed – three pages shorter for one thing – and I figured this might be the only way to get another shot from you at it…. (grin)

    Hope to hear from you soon!

  4. This is a great topic. I have bought books based solely on their first lines. And I’ve often been disappointed when those books don’t fulfill the promise of the first line. I haven’t read any of your books yet, but since you’ve posted this blog, I can only assume that you understand how important first lines are. So your books probably fulfill the promise of your first lines. I’m eager to find out.


  5. Ah, if only I were a book keeper! I seem to recall the opening of Soulless was wonderful, but it’s out of the house by now…

    But I like this one…

    In the movies there as always a warning before something bad happened. Music swelled, the good guy promised everything would be fine now or the camera suddenly went into slow motion.
    Life wasn’t so tidy.

    From Susan Mallery’s Straight From the Hip… I think it sounds interesting!