Girls Write Out
Monday, June 02, 2008

There’s nothing better than opening a book and being pulled in immediately. As a writer, I know the necessary ingredients to make that happen. But as a writer, I also know it’s not as easy as you might think.

Colleen, Di, and I were on a panel this weekend and we got on the subject of novel openings. Several years ago I read Danger in the Shadows by Dee Henderson and found it to be the most compelling opening I’ve ever read.

The heroine, who’s afraid of the dark, becomes trapped in a darkened elevator with a stranger, whom we later learn is the hero. The tension is downright delicious and goes on for many pages. You couldn’t have pried that book from my hands with a crowbar.

Every genre has its own style of opening and some are meant to start out with more subtlety than others, but they should all have us searching for answers and eager to flip to the next page.

Is there a book you couldn’t put down from page one? What opening was so compelling you remember it now, even if it’s been years since you read it?
Denise Hunter  
posted at 9:59 AM  
  Comments (24)
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At 10:42 AM, Blogger Valerie said...

"The Princess", by Lori Wick.

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Bethanie said...

ohh i loved danger in the shadows.

that opening had me hooked for the entire o'malley series. :)

one book that had me hooked was 'what a girl wants'. i'd ummed and ahhed over that book for SO long in the bookstore, like a year i think. then i finally thought what the heck i'll get it, and i think i read the whole thing that day. lol.

but i'm hopeless, i do that quite a bit.
i think years ago when i read the first harry potter book, the opening to that is rather compelling... that hooked me into reading 6.5 out of the 7 books (i looked up on wikipedia what happened in book 7 so i never finished it... in fact i didn't like that one very much).

but anyways...
i do like me a book that hooks me right away. i'll read a book where i think ok this is going to be an interesting read, even if it's a bit slow to start... but if the beginning is dead boring and pathetic, i'll put it down and won't pick it up again.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Laurien said...

"Something Blue" by Emily Giffin. The opening line is, "I was born beautiful", it pulled me in instantly.

As someone who hopes to be a writer I have to say that coming up with a good opening line is VERY hard. I have yet to come up with one I really like.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Pam S. said...

"True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am."

Edgar Alan Poe knew how to start a story and hook you into the narrative! :0)

By the way, in my English 10 class we've discussed six ways to start a short story. (There are probably lots and lots of other ways, too!) Any of these sound familiar--or are your favorite ways?

1.middle of the action
2.setting the scene/atmosphere
3.introducing the main character
4.middle of dialogue
5.shock tactics
6.intrigue(mystery)--like the Poe story above.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Pam S. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Gotta love Pride and Prejudice. I can't think of another book that basically sums up the whole story in that first sentence and yet still makes you want to keep reading. And can't you just hear that refined English accent in those words? I wish Jane Austen had written a writing how-to book in her day. I'd love to be able to come up with such a perfect first sentence.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Colleen Coble said...

That was a great book, Denise! And Pam, I LOVE Edgar Allen Poe. I can read any one sentence of his classics and know it's him.

My favorite novelist is Stephen King and my favorite book of all time is The Stand. I just went to read the first sentence and it's not necessarily riveting. There's hope for us! LOL

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Jaime said...

The House of Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

"HALF-WAY down a by-street of one of our New England towns, stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst."

Not exactly a thriller of a sentence but needless to say, the continuing chapter tells you that this house of seven gables has many a story to tell and the book holds its secrets! UGH!! My all-time favorite classic great opening!

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Katy McKenna said...

I'm pretty sure Lisa Samson's "Tiger Lillie" starts with the line, "I've got a skeleton inside of me." (The character is freaked out by skeletons...) That's memorable, if you ask me!

Katy McKenna

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Kayla said...

I totally agree about Danger in the Shadows. That was an amazing book and series.

Any time I pick up a Ted Dekker book, I'm hooked within the first page. There's something about his writing that just sucks you in immediately and you know you're starting on a creepy, exciting journey.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Suzanne said...

Trish Perry grabbed me in "The Guy I'm Not Dating" with her very first word: "Yowza!"

I'll never forget it.

Also, one of Laura Jensen Walker's books started with the character's thighs talking or complaining. That was a hoot.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

My husband just came home and I told him the blog topic for today. He shared his favorite opening sentence from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis.

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."

Doesn't that make you want to read more? Incidentally, I'm informed by a reliable source (hubby) that this is the next book to be made into a movie for the Narnia movies.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Brittanie said...

Crimson Eve by Brandilyn Collins took me in and did not let me go. I will always remember that. :)

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Ausjenny said...

Death Watch,
right from the beginning I had to read it.
The bookshop had a free sample book of about 12 first chapters. I was working there that afternoon and walked about with about 6 of them. Death watch i started straight away and really loved it.
(Of course it was after i finished and was thinking i realized a few things about it) But it had me in.

Another would be Mary Conneally's petticoat Ranch it had action at the start and it really got me in.

At 8:30 PM, Blogger Gracie said...

One of the best openings I've read was from The Restorer, by Sharon Hinck. No matter how many times I read it, that book never looses its appeal. Another was Legend of the Firefish, by George Bryan Polivka.

I admit, I'm picky when it comes to opening scenes. It has to catch me by the first page, or to the library it goes. Though occasionally I'll cut the author slack and read the first chapter. ; )

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Laurien said...

I thought of another one. Reconstructing Natalie begins with, "I'm obsessed with breasts." I thought it was a weird opening line but it made me want to keep reading.

At 1:16 AM, Blogger Anna Marie said...

"What a girl wants" I was Hooked.

At 2:32 AM, Blogger Rel said...

John Aubrey Anderson's Abiding Darkness, "The summer of '45 lied."

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Liz said...

"Who do you think you are?" The dark voice curdled through the moist air and richocheted along the passage of the cavern. "I'll kill you!" He reached for her and she scrambled away, utttering a cry that froze in her throat...

One of the best openings to a book that I've read. It is the Crystal Cavern by Hannah Alexander. Unfortunately it's out of print but it is being revised as Hidden Motive. Great book! I've also loved all of Dee Hendersons books, they draw you in and don't let go.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Cara Putman said...

Danger in the Shadows is a book I read and reread frequently. I LOVE that opening.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Timothy Fish said...

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has one of the best examples of how an opening should be written. What I especially like about it is that it is deceptively simple.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger MelanieWrites said...

I just perused the upstairs bookshelf to find an opening scene.

My favorite book of all time, "To Kill a Mockingbird," has a lousy first line, so I'm always looking for other openers to cite.

I've decided today's will be from Carol O'Connell's "Find Me." The prologue starts, "The haunt of Grand Central Station was a small girl with matted hair and dirty clothes." If you skip tat, the first chapter opens with, "It appeared that the woman had died by her own hand in this Upper West Side apartment. It was less apparent that anyone ever lived here."

Both draw me in.

The most confusing opener on the upstairs bookshelf goes to "Look Homeward Angel." I can't help it. I know it's a classic, but he's weird.

At 11:20 PM, Blogger MelanieWrites said...

I almost forgot the "Gods in Alabama" opener, which is great except for the fact that it can't be repeated in its entirety in a family-friendly blog environment.

At 1:18 AM, Blogger Kristin said...

Melanie, that is a great start to a book, though i'm embarrassed that I bought it after reading that line. it made me laugh out loud in the store.


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The Authors
Kristin Billerbeck
Kristin Billerbeck is a proud Californian, wife, mother of four, and connoisseur of the irrelevant. She writes Christian Chick Lit; where she finds need for most of the useless facts lulling about in her head.

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble writes romantic suspense with a strong atmospheric element. A lovable animal of some kind--usually a dog--always populates her novels. She can be bribed with DeBrand mocha truffles.

Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter writes women's fiction and love stories with a strong emotional element. Her husband says he provides her with all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too.

Diann Hunt

Diann Hunt writes romantic comedy and humorous women's fiction. She has been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, chocolate, her dog, and well, chocolate.

Hannah Alexander

Cheryl Hodde writes romantic medical suspense under the pen name of Hannah Alexander, using all the input she can get from her husband, Mel, for the medical expertise. For fun she hikes and reads. Out of guilt, she rescues discarded cats. She and Mel are presently taking orders from four pampered strays.

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