introduction · narrative

Opening Lines

My conference folder and my Klas Fahlén Letterpressed Notebook, which are both brimming with notes, handouts, and other info from SCBWI.
My conference folder and my Klas Fahlén Letterpressed Notebook, which are both brimming with notes, handouts, and other info from SCBWI.

There’s been so much written about introductions, first lines, hooks, etc. There are so many pieces of advice floating out in the world for ways to use the opening lines of a story to draw readers in from the very first sentence. Why? Because if you don’t hook your reader and involve them early on, then you’re apt to lose them.

One of the editor panels I attended at SCBWI last month was about openings, hooks, and grabbers. I took pages of handwritten notes with the suggestions the editors* gave during this session. I turned it into yet another list that can be used with students in writing workshop.


  • Give readers a sense of character, place, and what’s going on.
  • Provide readers with a sense of closeness.
  • Make an honest declaration to the reader.
  • Draw the reader in by using the 1st person.
  • Talk to the reader in the 2nd person.
  • Give a sense of who the character is and where they live.
  • Tell everything the character is meaning to tell (without meaning to tell).
  • Establish a sense of voice that involves the reader, invites them in, welcomes them into the story, and makes seem curious about that world.

*= The ideas mentioned above were from an editor panel comprised of Andrew Harwell, Wendy Loggia, and Amanda Maciel. It was moderated by agent Alexandra Penfold.

If you can’t get enough of first sentences then  click here to read a round-up of blog posts about them.  It’s a tremendous resources compiled by Anna Forrester, a fellow writer and educator, who I met at the SCBWI Gala.

Do you have a favorite opening line from a book? Please share by leaving a comment.

13 thoughts on “Opening Lines

  1. “First the colors. 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


  2. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Although JK Rowling doesn’t mention Harry for awhile in the first Harry Potter; I love the “thank you very much” portion of the sentence. It sets the scene for all the interactions with the Dursleys and how they live life.


  3. I chose, Cathy Applegate and Dee Huxley’s ‘Raindance’, which begins:
    ‘Everything is quiet. Everything is still. It hasn’t rained for two whole years. We wait and wait and wait until we are no longer sure what we are waiting for and whether it will ever come.’
    This lead is rich in craft possibilities. It arouses curiosity and makes such effective use of repetition. It is also the front end of a circular ending. I use it frequently as an example of a grabber lead.


  4. Too many! First to mind is “Call me Ishmael” (from “Moby Dick”), but my favorite is “Once upon a time…a little girl lived in the big woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.” (from “Little House in the Big Woods”) Makes me want to read the whole series again!


  5. My name is India Opal Buloni and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for some macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.


  6. Colossus Rises (Seven Wonders Book #1)
    by Peter Lerangis

    “One the morning I was scheduled to die, a large barefoot man with a bushy red beard waddled past my house.”

    Doesn’t get much better than that!


  7. Today, I started A Snicker of Magic. It begins, “‘They say all the magic has gone up out of this place,’ said Mama.”

    I posted your list on my students’ blog prompting them to steal a first line and write.

    Thanks for keeping the inspiration coming.


Comments are closed.