Is it the author’s name? The cover? The Book Description? The first sentence?
All of the Above
Chances are it’s a combination of the elements above. When book shopping, I always open a book—whether that’s in a bookstore or online with the “Look Inside” feature—and read the first paragraph.
If this small amount of text is crafted to capture a reader with an intoxicating first sentence, first paragraph, first page, I'll click buy without hesitation, hoping that equally addicting pages will lead me to the very end.
Crafting a Compelling Opening
Each time I start a manuscript, I spend a lot of time thinking up the perfect opening sentences for the story and the character. In a couple of sentences I want you to meet the character and glimpse something about her personality, attitude, and emotional condition that will make you want to read more.
I measure my opening sentence against the yardstick of great story openers created by my favorite authors. Excellent opening sentences capture the reader’s attention–makes readers curious or elicits an emotional reaction: laughter, excitement, sadness, etc.
Some of My Opening Sentences
April Fool Bride
My dislike of cold weather informed my opening sentence. I figured my heroine from Houston would also dislike nasty winter weather. *g*
The first day of spring in New York featured the kind of weather Madeline Quinn most hated. Cold, gray, wet, and miserable— which made it perfect because that’s exactly the way she felt.
Still The One (I’m fairly certain every woman has fantasized about what she’d do if given the
chance to show someone from her past how she has grown from an ugly duckling into a swan.)
Ally Fletcher had waited six years for this opportunity. Six long years. There was no way a mere thunderstorm was going to stop her. Of course, in Texas, calling this a mere thunderstorm was like saying a Texas tornado was a mere puff of wind.
Just One Look (Is there a woman who won’t identify with this paragraph?)
Jennifer Monroe shivered and rubbed the goose-bumped flesh of her arms. A meat locker would be warmer than a doctor’s examining room! Why do they have to keep it so cold? And why do they act as if you have nothing better to do than sit around clad only in a piece of paper and your birthday suit, and wait?
JANE I’m-Still-Single JONES
When she found the person responsible for this, she would make them pay. And pay big!
In this romantic comedy, I mined the physiological responses of attraction.
Darcy Benton wondered if she needed to check into a hospital. Her nervous system seemed to have shorted out, producing feet that felt like blocks of ice and hands that perspired as if it were July rather than December.
Old Enough to Know Better
If you can’t trust your friends, then who can you trust? Stormy Clarkson planned to pose that question to her soon-to-be ex-friend Libby the minute she saw the conniving woman.
Romeo and Judy Anne
By the time most people reach the eve of their thirtieth birthday, they’ve developed a philosophy of life, shaped by the experience of living. Judy Anne Palmer was no exception. She had a philosophy of life, shaped by life’s hard lessons and honed by the last eight years to a stark two-word declaration. Life sucks!
SCENTS and SENSUALITY
Men looked at Amanda Whitfield and thought she was a hot blonde who knew how to have a good time. Hot? Sizzling. Sexy? Undeniably. Men figured she knew all about flirtation and lust and sex. They were wrong.
The Trouble With Love
Every woman makes mistakes. Susannah Quinn glared at the door to the sheriff’s private office. Yep, every woman makes mistakes, but most women didn’t have to put up with a constant reminder of their not so brilliant actions. And most women didn’t have their mistake showing up at their office, flaunting tanned muscles and polluting the environment with clouds of testosterone and male arrogance.
Great Opening Sentences from Great Authors
Here are some favorite opening sentences that intrigue or tease with a sense of anticipation, evoking curiosity and/or an emotional response in the reader that can’t be resisted.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Mandeley again.” Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“I never knew her in life.” The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
“Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow.” Carrie by Stephen King
“Death was driving an emerald green Lexus.” Winter Moon by Dean Koontz
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
What are some of your favorite opening sentences?
(Joan Reeves writes sassy, sexy Contemporary Romance. Her books are available at all major ebook sellers with audio editions available at Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes. Joan publishes Writing Hacks, a free subscription newsletter for writers, and WordPlay, an email list/newsletter for readers. Find Joan online: Blog, Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.