Great Opening Lines


"My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call."
--The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

"His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing by the pump of a gas station at the outskirts of Madison, Kentucky. He had a long heavy beard, and his hair was hanging down over his ears to his neck, and he had his hand out trying to thumb a ride from a car that was stopped at the pump. To see him there, leaning on one hip, a Coke bottle in his hand and a rolled-up sleeping bag near his boots on the tar pavement, you could never have guessed that on Tuesday, a day later, most of the police in Basalt County would be hunting him down."
--First Blood by David Morrell

"Keller thinks he hears a baby cry.
The sound is just audible over the muted rotors as the helicopter comes in low toward the jungle village.
The cry, if that is what he's hearing, is shrill and sharp, a call of hunger, fear, or pain."
--The Cartel by Don Winslow

"Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin's feet were placed in a tub of cement. Twelve gunmen stood waiting until they got far enough out to sea to throw him overboard, while Joe listened to the engine chug and watched the water churn white at the stern."
--Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Though written in diverse styles, varying tenses and with different points of view, these first few sentences or paragraphs penned by immensely gifted authors have much more in common than just superb writing.

Each sequence of sentences hooks the reader instantaneously by its masterful use of language; and as importantly, delivers an undeniable aura of mystery and foreboding.

"Something portentous is about to happen here," each boldly declares.

As a reader, your curiosity is aroused, impelling you to read on, surrendering yourself to whatever the author has planned for you.

The power of the first few sentences leads you to follow the writer's beckoning, seducing you to enter his imagination. They seem to say, Come on this journey with me.

No matter the genre, a novel's opening lines are crucial in determining your interest in what the author has in store for you. Those first few words set the template for your willingness to travel along the story's path.

Writers from Dickens ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times") to Melville ("Call me Ishmael") knew the power of first impressions. And that's true for contemporary writers, as well.

I invite readers to comment by submitting opening sentences or paragraphs exemplifying the adage that the first few lines of a novel are like the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth: everything else follows from them.

Mark Rubinstein
Author of The Lovers' Tango and Return to Sandara