First Lines in Books Draw the Reader In: Make Them Great

In a review of Alice Sebold’s new novel The Almost Moon, the reviewer quoted the first lines of her new novel and then quoted the first lines from her previous novel, The Lovely Bones, as well.

In her first novel, The Lovely Bones, it took Alice two lines to kill off the heroine:

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” — The Lovely Bones

What great first lines! They draw you into the novel right away. Lots of little details that flash!

The Almost Moon book cover

In her newest novel The Almost Moon, Sebold gets to murder within the very first line:

“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.”

Another great first line. It juxtaposes a cliche (when all is said and done) with a simple statement of murder. Incredibly dramatic in an understated way.

Would you continue reading if you had read these opening lines?

How does your book (fiction or nonfiction) stack up in drawing readers into your book?

And here’s the first line from Jennifer Egan’s novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad:

“It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.”

Quiet, interesting, intriguing. Would you keep reading?

Here are a few more great first lines that set the tone for the entire novel:

High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. – David Lodge, Changing Places

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

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. – Paul Auster, City of Glass

Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
– George Eliot, Middlemarch

The moment one learns English, complications set in. – Felipe Alfau, Chromos

Mother died today. – Albert Camus, The Stranger

They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. – Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

They shoot the white girl first. – Toni Morrison, Paradise

“To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” – Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

You better not never tell nobody but God. – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Now, those are some great first lines. From there I’d read at least another few pages until the novelist has sucked me into the story. At that point, I have to buy the book.

That’s the idea.

About John Kremer

John Kremer is author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, the Relationships Matter Marketing program, and many other books and reports on book marketing, Internet marketing, social media, and book publicity. -- .

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