Much has been written about hooking the reader at the beginning of a novel and keeping their interest all the way to the end. When reading a novel, sometimes it’s the opening lines in the first chapter that pique my curiosity. As shared by horror fiction author Stephen King, in an article published in The Atlantic, an opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.
Later in the article, King shared his best first line from his novel, Needful Things: You’ve been here before.
It was not a big thematic line, as noted in the article. But it was presented by itself on the page in a 20-point type. I’d say it was an interesting way to open a story.
While all novels don’t invite the reader in at the beginning of the story, some I’ve read did include great opening lines, in my opinion, which kept me turning the pages to the end.
Here are five novels I enjoyed reading with opening lines that set the stage for what came further into the story.
The Stranger, by Albert Camus – Maman died today.
This short sentence of only three words is how the novel begins. Immediately, it brings questions to the reader’s mind about Maman, the narrator’s mother. Who was she and how did she die? It caused me to wonder why the author started the novel with that line. It certainly sparked my interest. The novel is a short read of 123 pages. But it’s a telling story about a French Algerian named Monsieur Meursault who lives an ordinary life without meaning. He deals with his mother’s death in an emotionless manner and then later commits a crime showing no sign of remorse.
Larger Than Life, by Jodi Picoult – Moments after receiving the worst news of my life, I drive into the middle of a massacre.
After reading this sentence, I thought something terrible must have happened and I wanted to keep reading to find out more. The first part of the sentence led me to believe something happened to the narrator (directly or indirectly) leaving her with an impact. The word, massacre, created different images of death and turmoil in my mind. Overall, it’s a heart-warming story with Alice Metcalf, a researcher, as the main character. She sets out on a journey to study memory in elephants. As Alice learns about the behavior of elephants, she comes to some understanding about the broken relationship between herself and her own mother.
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng – Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
When I read the opening lines of this novel, I was hooked into reading more. Once again, the opening generated questions. First, I acquired an interest in who was telling the story. It’s not written in the first person or the typical third person point of view. As I kept reading, I determined that the novel was written in an omniscient narrator style. The author wanted to have more flexibility with the characters in the story and believed the omniscient POV worked best. Anyway, author Ng started her debut novel with opening lines which immediately put the reader in the thinking mode asking the question – What happened to Lydia? The novel reveals a gripping story about an Asian-American family with relationship issues and multiple secrets. It was a true page turner.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn – “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.”
In this novel, the opening line is against the norm as it’s written in a dialogue format. The reader is quickly placed into the character’s thoughts. The novel is narrated by the two main characters, Nick and Amy (husband and wife), in the first person POV, but in an alternating fashion chapter by chapter. It starts with Nick and spins into a mysterious story with several plot twists. As the story unfolds, there are some awkward and funny moments. The opening lines give an indication of the awkwardness portrayed by Nick, especially. The story was made into a motion picture. Although, the book in this case reveals the details.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin – The Rutherford Girl had been missing eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
Initially, the title of this novel caught my attention. After reading the first few lines, I became even more interested. In addition to wondering about the Rutherford Girl, I also had different thoughts about the “monster” waiting in Larry Ott’s house. Was the so called “monster” a person gone mad or a wild animal? It was another one of those story openers that pushed the reader to keep reading. Author Franklin wasted no time getting the reader interested. Set in a small Mississippi town, this novel casts much suspicion upon one particular character related to the disappearance of the Rutherford Girl.
Questions: What novels have you read with opening lines that hooked you into the story to keep turning the page? Did the story keep you interested all the way to the end?