Last week in an online writers group we were discussing excerpts of books. How long do you need to get a reader’s attention? It made me think about what grabs me. I often don’t read book blurbs, but open the books themselves and read the beginnings. I can be hooked by a sentence. Sometimes it takes a paragraph or two. But something has to intrigue me on the first page to keep me reading.
Here are nine openings I like from a variety of genres:
1. “It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.”
Mary Stewart The Moon Spinners
2. “The movers had gutted the house of her furniture and belongings. Rae Gabriella doubted she could fine even a throw pillow remaining. She sank down on the living-room carpet to use the fireplace hearth as a backrest.
“Stones dug into her back. The house had felt sunny and welcoming when she had moved in; now it felt ready to expel her too. Too much violence had happened here.” Dee Henderson Before I Wake
3. “Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.” Maggie Stiefvater The Raven Boys
4. “I can’t say I’m the type of person who believes in love at first sight or some other random sappy cliché.” J.F. Jenkins The Corruption of Mila
5. “Ashton Hilary Akbar Pelham-Martyn was born in a camp near the crest of a pass in the Himalayas, and subsequently christened in a patent canvas bucket.” M.M. Kaye The Far Pavilions
6. “I work in the magic industry. I think you’ll agree it’s pretty glamorous: a life of spells, potions, and whispered enchantments; of levitation, vanishings, and alchemy. Of titanic fights to the death with the powers of darkness, of conjuring up blizzards and quelling storms at sea. Of casting lightening bolts from mountains, of bringing statues to life in order to vanquish troublesome foes.
“If only.” Jasper Fforde The Song of the Quarkbeast
7. “Mira woke to the sleepy bleating of a goat. The world was as dark as eyes closed, but perhaps the goats could smell dawn seeping through the cracks in the house’s stone walls.” Shannon Hale Princess Academy
8. “Five more reps and I should be done with this body for good.” Carol Riggs The Body Institute
9. “So it had come to this.
“Hideyori Kato paced the dirt floor, his face wrinkled in a frown of disgust. Unprotected by tabi, the silk stockings he was used to wearing, his feet bled from the coarse straw of his sandals.” Patricia Kiyono The Samurai's Garden
So what appeals to me in these? What hooks me?
It could be a well-written sentence or image. Sometimes it’s the hint that something interesting is going to happen. In others, the voice of the character sounds like a person I want to meet. Or the character is out of place. Humor can pull me in. So can an unusual setting. Or things that don’t quite match up. A question might be raised that I want answered. Each of these makes me want more, so I keep reading and reading.
And when I’m working on my own writing, I try to emulate the idea of best beginning words.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.