Something Other Than “Once Upon A Time…”

The beginning of every book ever

I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings lately. What makes a good opening line? What really hooks a reader? What magical combination of nouns, adjectives, and verbs is irresistible?

Clearly, the answer is not rhetorical questions.

It’s hard to put your finger on. Sometimes the perfect opening line strikes you right away, and you know the perfect starting point for your story. Sometimes you writer and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and are never quite sure.

Sadly, there isn’t some magic equation, some golden ratio for writing. You just gotta throw stuff on the wall and see what sticks.

Or, you can go to your local bookstore or library (or personal library, if you’re like me and hate putting on pants to go outside) and read the opening line of all your favorite books. What is it about those lines that made you keep reading? What’s the same between all of them? How do they differ? What do they do right?

Need some inspiration? Here are some of my favorite opening lines:


“Marley was dead: to begin with.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”
— Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races


“The circus arrives without warning.”
— Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus


“There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.
And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.”
— Neil Gaiman, Stardust


“My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don’t mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had the power to reduce time to an ultraslow trickle.”
— Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair


“The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.”
— Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone


“Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.”
— Ernest Cline, Ready Player One



Sound off in the comments: what’s your favorite opening line, or what opening line are you working on?


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