Opening Lines Gail Loves (Important for Writers)

Opening lines are a tricky business for us writers, Gentle Reader. I had cause to dive into some of my favorite books in order to research great opening lines recently. (Mostly as a means of abject procrastination.)

Here are a few I tracked down:

  • “In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.” ~ Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle
  • “That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me.” ~ Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted
  • “Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable.” ~ Particia C. Wrede, Dealing with Dragons
  • “There was a man and he had eight sons. Apart from that, he was nothing more than a comma on the page of History. It’s sad, but that’s all you can say about some people.” ~ Terry Prachett, Sourcery

So those are all pure fantasy, a couple are retellings of fairy stories, generally comedic, and two are written for young adults.

Those are both my kind of high fantasy, sword & sorcery adventures, note they start with action and they feature strong female main characters and a nice dose of romance.

  • “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” ~ M.T. Anderson, Feed
  • “When the Catteni, mercenaries for a race called the Eosi, invaded Earth, they used their standard tactic of domination by landing in fifty cities across the planet and removing entire urban populations.” ~ Anne McCaffrey, Freedom’s Choice
  • “And the moral of the story: never call a two star general a basterd to his face.” ~ Tanya Huff, The Better Part of Valor

OK, above we have three sci-fi. The first is a hard-hitting dystopian YA, the second a survivor in space saga, and the last is military SF.

  • “I pulled the shard out just as his wound began spurting blood.” ~ Elizabeth Vaughan, Warprize
  • “I bet Hippocrates never stepped one foot into a dump like this, I thought as I peered through the tavern’s narrow entrance.” ~ S.L. Viehl, Stardoc

You can tell that both of these are going to involve doctors as main characters: the first is a romance fantasy and the second a space opera.

  • “I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first.” ~ Patricia Briggs, Moon Called
  • “When I was a young boy, if I was sick or in trouble, or had been beaten at school, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father wanted to kill me.” ~ Mary Renault, The Last of the Wine

This last set is a mishmash, urban fantasy and historical fantasy, just because they’re two of my favorite genres.

There seem to be some trends in opening lines. Mind you, I refuse to put this under scientific study, so this is all wild speculation. Most SF/F authors opt to start with setting or character description. I’d say this is the hardest and most challenging way to begin. You really have to write description exceedingly well to pull in a reader’s attention in this age of short attention spans. As a reader, I rarely stick with a book if it opens with paragraphs of description. Which brings me round to that small pocket of authors who lean in favor of opening with dialogue. I like this, and do it often myself. More recent works launch with an action sequence, needless to say, I like this as well, but it can be kind of a cop-out.

So, what about you, Gentle Reader, favorite opening lines? (“Best of times, worst of times” doesn’t count.)

Or how about great favorite books with awful starts to them?

“Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening.”
~ Soulless opening line


Your Moment of Parasol . . .

1900  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Your Infusion of Cute . . .

Swift and Roe

Your Tisane of Smart . . .

Oven Mitt as Bubble Wrap?

Your Writerly Tinctures . . .  
Baby Got Back…Story

Waistcoats & Weaponry ~ The Finishing School Book the Third. Waiting on copy edits.
Curtsies & Conspiracies
~ The Finishing School Book the Second.  Out now!  
~ Soulless Vol. 3: (AKA Blameless) Available serialized through YenPlus. Out now! 
~ The Parasol Protectorate Abroad Book the First: Delayed. Why? Begin rewrite in 2014.


The Books!


The Parasol Protectorate Series: 1 Soulless, 2 Changeless, 3 Blameless, 4 Heartless, 5 Timeless
Parasol Protectorate Series manga graphic novels
The Finishing School Series: Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies
 $0.99 ebook only short stories: Marine Biology, My Sister’s Song, and Fairy Debt

Book News:
Sony ebook store has Gail Carriger’s 5 Spunkiest Females in Fiction.

Quote of the Day:
“You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.”
~ Les Brown


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Posted by Gail Carriger

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  1. lunasolara said:

    "No matter how I carefully I patted the chopped apples into place, the top crust of my apple pie always looked like I'd tried to bury a dismembered body under it." – "Magic Bleeds" by Ilona Andrews

  2. lunasolara said:

    There's also this gem courtesy of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden in "Blood Rites":

    "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault."

  3. Kelly Hodgkins said:

    It it a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

  4. Victoria said:

    "It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression 'as pretty as an airport. ' " Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea- Time of the Soul.

  5. Dessa said:

    I don't remember it exactly, but I really liked the way Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst started. Main character (first person) is coming out to view the sunrise on the day she dies.

  6. Dessa said:

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith.

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