How to Start a Novel (incl. 31 Famous Story Openers)

How to Start a Novel (incl. 31 Famous Story Openers)

57 Remarkable Comments


I had an urgent problem, and it didn’t help that my own freaking expectations were so high.

My mind was circling around the issue. There had to be a witty way to do it; I was desperate for a sudden flash of inspiration.

I was looking for the ultimate, the greatest opener ever – for my post about story openers.

Oh, what a cutesy beginning that was… writing it felt a bit like taking apart a Russian doll. I’m tempted to go on forever – but enough! Let’s actually talk about how to start a novel.

In this post, you can read about:

  • Which elements are indispensable for your story openers
  • Why you should feel free to throw most of the rules for openers out the window
  • 31 story openers, taken from famous novels
  • A short explanation for each one and why it works
  • An easy trick for how to start your novel (in case you are new to writing)
  • An opener list for writers with more experience
  • A lot of inspiration to compose your own openers

And if you need a practical sheet to fall back on, then download my…

Story Openers Examples PDF

This free PDF is a summary of the post, including all of its opener examples. Download it, print it, and quickly go through it next time you need inspiration and guidance for an opener.

How to start a novel

Now let’s take a look at the most important parts of that perfect opening.

How to Start a Novel

Hopefully the sentence I started this post with caught your attention. If it did, that’s because it’s interesting, it’s drama. People love to read about drama.

Let’s dissect it. Why does it seem interesting?

It’s because it makes you ask yourself a couple of questions, and therefore piques your curiosity: What’s that problem? Why is it urgent? And what’s up with that girlfriend? Is she such a bitch, or are Alex’s nerves so fragile? Several tiny questions add up.

I actually wrote an entire post about how you can create plot by establishing questions (it was the first post ever published on this blog). Check it out if you need guidance for your story line.

Now what’s the perfect opening?

If you expected me to tell you “Follow formula X, and you will have the perfect beginning,” or “Obey rule YZ, and your opener will be holy forever,” then you will be disappointed.

Honestly, that would be a big pile of BS. And “BS” stands for “Bad Speak,” of course, as I’m always very clean and tidy on this blog (but don’t look into my apartment).

Remember this:

There are NO rules you have to follow in order to feel like a proper author (and in order for me to feel like a proper writing coach)!

After all, it’s YOUR story, and you can start it however the heck you want. More so, YOU know best how to start it, because this story comes out of YOU.

So forget all the rules overbearing writing manuals would love to impose on you. You only have to keep one overarching rule in mind for your opener:

It has to be interesting.

To make your beginning interesting, you have a lot of different options. You will find a long list of examples below. A few of them even break this one rule, and the stories are still great.

If you are a beginner, you might want to stick to a beginning that leaves open questions and provokes curiosity. Scroll down for examples in the beginners section.

If you are more experienced, you can also start out with setting a tone of voice and mood. Scroll down to the advanced section for yummy examples.

And for starters (pun intended), I will even give you a formula. It’s not a rule you HAVE to follow, but something to keep in mind if you are not sure what to do:

Write the first sentence so the reader desperately wants to read the second one.

That’s not my quote, unfortunately. It’s by William Faulkner, and it brings us back to luring them in: You write your first sentence to make readers curious about the second one.

You write the second sentence to make them curious about the third one.

The first paragraph to make them curious about the second paragraph.

The first chapter to make them curious about the second chapter.

And so on. I’m sure by now you can imagine how this series continues. Just picture yourself as a fisherman, slowly pulling in the fishing line with your catch hooked. You are stringing the reader along in the best of all ways. You will also have a golden thread for yourself that can guide you along.

But now, I hear some of you asking: What should I write that first sentence about, Alex?”

The answer is: Look inside of you; because that’s where your story lives. You will soon realize what type of scene, what type of feeling, what type of language your story needs. Should the beginning be on point? Or provoking? Should it show attitude? Make us feel light or somber? Should it introduce an intriguing character, place or idea?

Let’s look at all the creative beginnings great authors came up with.

Best Novel Opening Lines?

The following examples were taken from successful novels. I hope their variety will inspire you and kickstart your imagination to find your perfect opener! Here are some notable approaches.

Straight to the Point and Mildly Interesting :

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee

This opener tells it as it is, straight to the point. An action is happening, the event is painful for the character and exciting for the reader. This is a plain and simple opener that prompts the question “What will happen next?”


Aphorism, Sounding Smart and Connected to Theme:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoi

This beginning is a sound bite, an intelligent quick mouthful that could stand for itself as well. Nevertheless, you should connect its message to the core theme of your story. That way, it will make more sense, keep everything compact, and won’t be flapping in the wind like a loose, arbitrary beginning.


Good Story Openers


Pure Attitude:

Gotham City. Maybe it’s all I deserve, now. Maybe it’s just my time in Hell.

Batman: Year One, Frank Miller

A highly concentrated dose of demeanor. Not only do we get curious about the hellish events and what all of this means, but also about the guy himself: Why does he talk like that? Is he some John Wayne type; evil; or just plain crazy? What makes the world he is living in so dark?


Subtly Disturbing:

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words “Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre” and, in a shield, the World State’s Motto: “Community, Identity, Stability”.

Brave New WorldAldous Huxley

This opener makes us feel uncomfortable, like something is very off in its world. It doesn’t disturb in a plain in-your-face way though. No, on the surface, all the author describes are calmness, order and stability. He uses the foil, and not the sledge hammer. So tell me, reader, where does that creepy feeling come from…?


Outright Shocking:

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.

The Blind AssassinMargaret Atwood

Plain shocking is easy to do and always very effective. You just need some extreme event you can give away at the beginning of your story. Start your tale with a bang! Drama and reader interest will follow.


Shocking, yet Funny/Controversial:

It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess

One of my personal favorites ever, and it’s the beginning of a great novel too. Observe how many small, whimsical provocations this sentence mentions in passing. The result, depending on how you see it, is funny or shocking. The first person POV adds to the effect. All of these elements play their part later on in the novel; they are not just shallow effects.


Getting You Hooked by Throwing a Mini-Story at You Right Away:

One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary.

The Crying of Lot 49Thomas Pynchon

Throw your own mini-cosmos at the reader before she can even get to the first full stop and take a breath. She will want to know more. All of the elements in this example are well balanced. If you try this at home, make sure your text stays perfectly readable. For instance, resist parentheticals and complicated structures; the example sentence is very long, but still easy to understand.


Unrolling the Bird’s Eye View:

The Galactic Empire was dying.

Foundation and EmpireIsaac Asimov

Short and sweet, as a starting point for your reader to explore. But what the heck is the Galactic Empire? And why is it dying? Did it write a will? We should read on to learn.


Foreshadowing in Letter Style:

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

FrankensteinMary Shelley

Annoying to read, but you could argue “Blame the writer of the letter, and not the writer of the book…” Why the official tone? And what’s evil? Inquiring minds want to know (especially the ones that saw a hulk of a monster with a frightening blank stare on the cover).


Foreshadowing in Dramatic Situation:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

One Hundred Years of SolitudeGabriel García Márquez

We are not sure why the execution is happening, but we know violence is casting a dark shadow over fond childhood memories. The opener oscillates between the Colonel’s past, present and future; the tensions between all those times and feelings make for a story opener loaded with emotions; and all of this in only 26 words.


Characters and Language:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneJ.K. Rowling

This character description lets us wonder why they are so normal, and why that needs to be emphasized. But it’s really the Thank you very much that adds a special tone and makes things interesting. It’s the characters’ voice chiming in, and that voice judges in a way that comes from feeling superior. That makes for a very unusual opening. It’s an example of how details matter, and even more so in your opening line. It pays off to think about yours for a while.


Characters and Character History:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald

Another beginning that lives off the story’s characters. We want to know about this character that is so well off, about his family’s attitude, and the little scene the author just painted in our minds. The wealthy are of special interest. If you can open with a glimpse into a particular group of people, be it drug dealers or circus artists or a kindergarten kids, and make it authentic, that can be a great opener.


Simple (If You Must):

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte

Plain and simple – yes, that’s possible too. But think twice if you really want to go that route, and remember, this was written 170 years ago. Entertainment could afford to be a lot slower back then, as TV and YouTube were no competition.


Another Simple One:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Nineteen Eighty-FourGeorge Orwell

An ordinary beginning for a non-ordinary novel. That kind of contrast can sometimes be interesting.


Too Boring for My Taste (But Just to Show You That Anything is Possible, If You Have an Interesting Story to Tell):

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hill-side bank and runs deep and green.

Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck

Describing a landscape is the absolute pinnacle of boredom. I can’t recommend it. But hey, you are the boss…


Very Plain, yet Intriguing:

I am the vampire Lestat.

The Vampire LestatAnne Rice

Super simple, but interesting. You can open like this, if you have a vampire in your story. Or some highly unusual place. Or event. Whoever read the title on the cover was already informed though. They knew the story was about none other than the vampire Lestat.



The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Murphy, Samuel Beckett

Laconic. And of course completely nihilistic, like Beckett always is. Grips us with a thought and an image.


Oh, Look, Terry Pratchett Tries the Same in His Own Style:

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth the effort.

The Light FantasticTerry Pratchett

He also comes after us with the sun, but his take is a cheeky one. It grabs us with wit. Make the style and attitude of your opener fit well with the rest of your novel. Make it a unit and tell the reader what to expect next.

How to start a novel


You just read 18 story openers that work wonderfully. Pick the ones you like best and let them inspire you. Have fun!

But what if you want to keep it very simple, and use an effective and bullet-proof opener you don’t have to think about too much?  Well, the next section is for you. You should try this especially if you are new to writing.

How to Start Writing a Novel for Beginners (Using the “W” questions)

Your readers’ attention is easy to catch if you can get them curious. Let them wonder! Throw them a tidbit of information, but don’t completely give away who, what, why, where or how.

Yes, those “W” question words are your helpers. And I’m not talking about worried, whining, weary, willful, wrong or wreck. Pick one or several of the real “W” words and make the reader wonder (that’s another magical W-word).

So if you don’t feel like using the openers above, or you just started out writing, use one of these – all of them are based on evoking curiosity:


Who is She? What Is It About This Woman?:

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine.

Northanger AbbeyJane Austen

Is she or is she not a heroine? The sentence is ambiguous and leaves us wondering who Catherine is and what she looks like.


Who is He?, Dark Edition:

I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased.

Notes from UndergroundFyodor Dostoevsky

This is the doom and gloom version of the Who is he? question. Doom and gloom is emphasized by the first person point of view. You could also make your character very funny. Or dumb. Or imaginative. Your characters can be super helpful to draw your reader into the story, so use them!


Why is He Doing That? And Why This Reaction?:

Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”

The Making of AmericansGertrude Stein

This sentence includes several riddles as to how these people behave. The scene looks absurd; or is there some sound reason behind it? Original and dramatic. Let the reader discover.


Where Is He? What Happened?:

The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.

Life, the Universe and EverythingDouglas Adams

Well, where is this guy? At breakfast with his mother-in-law? Places not fully explained make the reader long for your next sentence as well.


What’s the Truth?:

As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to Ransom’s cottage, I reflected that no one on that platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit.

PerelandraC. S. Lewis

This one is spelling it out in bold letters: THERE IS A SECRET! DISCOVER IT ALREADY, YOU READER YOU! Fair enough, author. It’s effective.


Violently Overwhelming:

Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.

Fight ClubChuck Palahniuk

That’s a great opening to me, because it evokes so many questions in bypassing; all while showing a lot of action and a mini-scene within a single sentence. Questions: Why is he pushing a gun into his mouth? Why the hell did he get him a job as a waiter in the first place then? Who is Tyler? What’s their relationship? And what is going to happen?


Another Smart One That Makes Us Wonder:

For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.

DisgraceJ. M. Coetzee

Hmmm… what does this mean? It draws us to the second sentence almost magnetically. Sex sells, you know… sex and puppies. Don’t forget to put sex or puppies into your first sentence, always!

And for the ones amongst you who want to go much further than to just tickle curiosity – here is another list:

How to Start a Novel, Advanced Version: Setting the Tone

A great way to intrigue your reader is by setting the mood and tone of your novel.

Think about it: We humans are very emotional creatures. We follow where our emotions lead us. It’s well known in advertising: Don’t appeal to the rational mind by talking about the logical advantages of your product; instead, appeal to emotions! “Just do it, “I’m loving it” or “It gives you wings” are not precisely watertight arguments.

The best way to get under your readers’ skin is to create an emotion for them right away. Set the mood for your novel with your first sentence, and throw them into your story like into a cold pool. They won’t forget.


How to start a novel first sentence

Your cell phone, overflowing with emotions

Hitting that emotional chord is a bit more challenging than evoking curiosity. But if you already have some writing experience under your belt, or if you just feel like it, then try it. A well-developed sense for language will help. For us writers, mood consists of language.

Now let’s see what we have:


Fairy Tale Style:

The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.

The Princess BrideWilliam Goldman

This one establishes fairy tale ambience right away. By reading the opener, you know you will get something fantastic. You are probably not reading an action piece about New York stockbrokers. The story will allow you to feel good within the defined limits of a fantastic tale; the sentence sounds plain and cutesy and gives it away.


Making it Sexy by Using Language and Association:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

LolitaVladimir Nabokov

Life, fire, sin, soul, tongue… the words allude as much to the topic as the rhythm and the obsession about the girl’s name. We can feel something is in the air. This beginning is purely language-driven. A great opener, and one of my favorites.


Dreamy, Glooming Introduction:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

RebeccaDaphne du Maurier

Plain, but effective. We can feel that something somber is overshadowing this beginning. Dreams lend your narration special weight. Also, you can describe anything, no matter how crazy or unrealistic, if it happens in a dream. That little trick gives you a lot of options.



The story so far: In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

The Restaurant at the End of the UniverseDouglas Adams

If you have a funny idea for an opener and if your story has some funny or ironic undertone, then go for that type of opening. A chuckle from the reader guarantees he will read on. But if your story has no fun elements to it, then don’t do this. It would set very wrong expectations.



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

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis

Another fun example. Mean and smart-ass style, and it’s making the author’s voice very hearable.



‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die.’

The Satanic VersesSalman Rushdie

Our last example sets an epic tone, fitting for the novel. Whatever feeling your novel conveys is what you want to start off with. Set the stage in an appropriate way!

That’s the long list of our openers; hopefully you have enough ammunition for your next 213 novels. And if you want to keep all of these beginnings on neat sheets, download the…

Good Story Openers PDF

Get this free PDF with all of these openers. Pull out the sheets before you write your own opener and get inspired to find your perfect opener:

How to start a novel

And of course I also have for you some…

Story Openers Writing Prompts

This time, I want you to write a quick story opening exercise in the comments below. It won’t cost you much time, I promise.

Choose one of the following four story fragments and write a beginning for it. It could be only the first sentence, or the entire first paragraph, or an even longer passage. Feel free to invent as many details as you want!

  1. A farmer builds a trap for a fox that has been attacking his hens. He finally catches the animal (you can also write from the fox’s POV).
  2. Lana wants to impress her boss with her latest audit report, but spills coffee all over the papers two minutes before the meeting.
  3. Knights festival at a castle. The king’s daughter (princess alarm!) tries to convince her father to give the victory to Sir Lancelot, whom she has fallen in love with.
  4. Take any of your own stories or a story you make up on the spot.

I’m looking forward to seeing your openings below in the comments. Don’t be shy! You can also find a lot more writing prompts on the writing prompts page. Find one you like, and practice writing a nice opener.

The End to the Beginning

They say the first sentence is the most important one of your entire story. If you can’t hook your readers with your first sentence, they won’t read on. Luckily, a great first sentence is not that hard to write.

Employ the strategies you saw in this post. Give yourself time. Writing an effective opener will become easier and easier the more you practice it. You will develop an infallible sense for what works and what doesn’t. You are the master of your story, and I guarantee you, that grand opener for your story is slumbering somewhere inside of you…. Wake it up!

Once you find it, your reader will be irresistibly hooked from phrase one. After that, writing your entire story becomes so much easier, because you are on the right track. And before you know it, you will have an awesome story in your hands!

Image Credits: Laptop Rocket: sdecoret/Fotolia; Winking guy: vectorpocket/Fotolia; Emoticons: koya979/Fotolia

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57 Remarkable Comments. Join in!


  1. Hannah Milev

    It was Sammy’s turn last night, and Rachel’s the night before. If that useless Mr Becker doesn’t do something about the situation soon, we’re all going to get killed.

    – my opening for story fragment #1. Of course, once you suggested the fox’s POV I had to go for the hen’s…

    Great article as always, keep ’em coming!

    1. Linda

      Great opening. Simple and to the point. Certainly creates interest
      I want to know who these people are, what they are doing, what ‘situation’ is referred to, and why they could get killed.

  2. Arvilla

    The first thing the king thought of was what would his wife think. She didn’t even like that Lancelot Guy–all bravado and no brains. So whose side should he take? “Me thinks” he says to himself, “I just may have to choose Lancelot’s side. He has no idea what he’s getting himself into.”

  3. Robin

    this one starts a sci-fi I’m working on…

    A few years ago my brothers and I had crept outside to visit the ruins of the ancient city. In one of the buildings I discovered something called a book, and brought it back with me. Now it lay hidden in my satchel, the only childhood treasure I deemed worthy enough to bring to my new home.

      1. Robin

        What I really like about it is, you immediately wonder who it is that went with the brothers, what ancient city they visited that contained a book, where the person brought it back to, and what new home this person is headed for, not to mention why they were packing so lightly on the way to that new home….

        This paragraph is loaded with many whys, what ifs, and as you say, an eerie quality that immediately alerts the reader to a tension they will want to explore. I wrote the thing, and I’m still excited for more!

        1. Alex

          Those are all questions, but I think by far the most intriguing question is: What happened to our world, has it become completely shattered?

          “Something called a book” are the most interesting words of this opening to me.

  4. Pamela

    Elise awakened, groggy. Her head ached but not from the drunkenness with which she was all too familiar. Alcohol had become her refuge after too many years working the late shift in the ER. Something was dripping onto her forehead. She rubbed the offending wetness and brought her hand before her eyes as they cleared of their bleariness. Fresh blood coated her hand. She forced herself to focus on the room around her. She was still in the hospital, but on the floor, her patient’s hand hanging limp, his life’s force draining onto her face.

          1. Alex

            Here is a belated reply: As a medical historian, you must have a treasure trove of knowledge to use for your fiction. Good writing!

  5. Marilyn Carvin

    We sat smiling, chatting, waiting. Death would arrive soon. 

    This is for my story set in an Independent/Assisted Living facility. Haven’t written it yet. Am living it. . . 

    One moment all is effort. How can one continue to breathe, much less rise, walk, eat, talk? The next moment I am looking at the absurdity of Life and swear I hear the gods laughing! And I, the god of my own universe, laugh. 

    Thank you — what a fun exercise!

    1. Alex

      This is great and very literary. Epic. I’m sorry you are living it. But your mind seems to be sharp, putting the pen to good use.

      Not sure if the third paragraph is part of your fiction or you speaking; I guess it all blurs into one another. All the best!

  6. Beth

    Amidst the ringing bells, cries of delight and smoky atmosphere, no-one noticed me. A gaunt-looking woman, winding her way through the gamblers, with a gin and tonic in her bony hand, seemed natural. No-one stopped, to ask if me I was okay or why my mascara was all smudged. If they had, I most certainly, wouldn’t…have told them, “I’ve just murdered four people. And they deserved to die!”

  7. Claude Saayman

    Marc smiled as he slid the stolen passport across the counter. The policeman did not smile back. Their eyes locked; the policeman’s were devoid of compassion, Marc’s full of audacity. The policeman flipped open the passport then lowered his eyes to examine the photograph. It bore a certain resemblance, but it was not Marc.

    The opening lines for my autobiographical novel, “Skating on thin ice.”

  8. Lance Haley

    “Alex incessantly pondered the first line of his post, the mounting pressure of crafting a perfect sentence compounded by the prospect of disappointing his girlfriend as though he had given her a cubic zirconium engagement ring.”

    Yes, I know I used an adverb right out of the chute. So sue me…. :) (to Alex’s other followers – he knows I am an attorney).

    P.S. the opening to Hundred Years of Solitude grabbed me by the proverbial testicles and never let go. Showed him ice?

    1. Alex

      That’s an irresistible one, Lance. ;)

      Oh, and unless the entire prompt is about not using adverbs, use adverbs to your heart’s content. We are not narration Nazis (NN) here. And by we I mean I.

      True, true, that Solitude opening also sounds like emotional ice…

      1. Lance Haley

        Love the NN acronym Alex. Seems like we get that mantra, “no adverbs”, beaten into our brains by every book and website on writing. Awesome post. As are all of them. But this one may be your best because of the broad analysis of so many openings of a host of masterful novels. Thanks for all your wonderful insight…

  9. Chris


    “Oh bugger!… I’ll have to to sleep with the bastard, now.” Said Lana, as she watched the words smear across the page in black streaked rivulets of coffee. “If only I’d got that spare cartridge.” She shrugged, “Oh, well… at least he’ll pay for dinner.”

  10. Chris

    That previous piece was cobbled together quickly for your challenge.

    The following is the opening of my current WIP… probably to be titled: 

    ‘SELECTED’ – “Perverts, or not, Constable… Murder is still murder, OK?”

    It’s the ninth book in my ‘Lena’s Friends’ crime series. (No.8 is finished, edited, and ready for publication)


    Kevin Timpson took the boy’s money, tucking the notes into a roll of others, which he pocketed then handed a small plastic bag to the young man. He failed to notice the sudden look of fear that had appeared in the customer’s eyes as he snatched his merchandise and hurried away. 

    The young customer’s haste was mistaken for impatience to get to wherever he was going to be partying that night.

    Kevin took out a packet of cigarettes, placed one between his lips and lit it with a disposable plastic lighter, which had been slid into the space inside the half empty pack. He replaced the lighter, then inhaled deeply before putting the pack back in his pocket.

    Turning to walk away, he shuddered as he suddenly found himself face to face with a solidly built crop headed man who’d been standing silently only inches behind him. A few yards away, another man loitered in a doorway.

    Kevin’s eyes opened wide in shock as the first man grinned at him coldly. 

    “Well, well, well… if it isn’t young Mr. Timpson…. You’re being a very naughty boy, aren’t you Kevin?”

    The cigarette dropped from Kevin’s lips as his mouth opened to speak, but the words seemed to have trouble forming. All that came out was a hoarse squeaking sound. 

    The man continued to grin mirthlessly as he raised his hand. In the hand, Kevin could see a piece of iron bar, gripped firmly by fingers that would look more at home on a gorilla. 

    Kevin tried to flinch from it, as the iron bar came down hard, but it was to no avail as he felt an excruciating pain in his shoulder that completely blotted out the sound of his collar bone splintering.

     Screaming, he collapsed to the floor, curling himself up in a vain attempt to protect himself as his assailant began kicking him.

    1. Elianne

      Great article, Alex! I’ve been an editor for 27 years and am only now ready to write my own novel. It’s a retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden from the perspective of the much-maligned and greatly misunderstood Eve.

      (For some reason, hitting the return key will not take me to another line or create a line space, so I will indicate where

      paragraph 1 ends.) [¶ 1] I am Eve. Most of what you have been told about me is untrue./////////////////////////// [¶2]

      The truth has been lost in time—in fact, for nearly thirty-eight thousand of your Earth standard years. But your world now holds a critical mass of individuals able to navigate a more complex conception of the cosmos and your place within it. Every day, I feel the yearning of those among you who long to hear the secrets of your human history. I am ready to tell my story—so that you might be free.

  11. Linda

    Terrific and thought-provoking article as always. Thank you :-)
    How does this one work? (From my WIP novel)

    “Despite the pain it evokes, I cannot deny the agonizing truth of twice having caused the death of someone I love.”

  12. Alex

    Hey Linda! That one certainly opens with a bang, and also plays with curiosity.

    But stylistically, you might want to make it more straight-forward and appealing to read. Something along the lines of: “It hurts so much. But it’s the truth; I can’t deny it. I have caused the death of someone I loved twice.”

    1. Chris

      I like Linda’s choice of words. They give is a very measured feel. I’d simply put the first five words at the end instead.

      “I cannot deny the agonizing truth of twice having caused the death of someone I love, despite the pain it evokes.”

      If it’s dialogue, or simply spoken by a character to no one in particular, I’d also insert an ellipsis in the place of the comma before ‘despite’ to indicate a pause, as if a breath is being taken.

  13. Sashka

    Thank you for this awesome article! I also think that your absolutely best posts are those that illustrate the tips with actual examples taken from great literature, such as this one and the early ones (Macbeth, Metamorphosis, Cherry Orchard, Ibsen etc.)
    It’s what makes your blog unique and hands-on unlike all the others that offer generic, purely theoretical and often vague advice! Keep’m comming!

  14. Eddie Matt

    Lana wants to impress her boss with her latest audit report, but spills coffee all over the papers two minutes before the meeting.
    “Sexy sells,” Lana pouted into her handheld mirror.
    “And audit reports sell faster!” She trilled the last word as she adjusted the sheaf of papers for the girumpteenth time. “Mr. Grant will be so impressed.” The thought of his piercing green eyes set her skin on edge.

    “Mr. Grant, I have the reports you needed.”
    “You know I need you, Lana.”
    “You tease.”
    The roleplaying made her squirm in her seat, shaking the coffee mug in her hand.

    The dark liquid slushed all over the neat pile of papers.
    Lana gasped, then smiled.

    “Mr. Grant, I made a mess.”
    “You naughty girl.”

    She giggled again, and looked at the wall clock. Two minutes, then she’d be punished for being the naughty, naughty girl she knew she was.

    Out of energy and creativity, so I threw all caution to the wind. Well, it was worth it. Thanks Alex!

  15. Will Bontrager

    (Unfortunately, the comment box is refusing line breaks. You’ll see a • between paragraphs.)

    From the dates in the comments, I see I’m lagging a bit with my arrival at the grand opening. But no matter, this opening keeps on opening forever.

    The post is epic, Alex. Thank you!

    OK, openings from story fragment clues (many excellent ones have been posted already) –

    ~ Farmer ~

    I might as well eat them all myself, chicken soup for a month, than let the fox continue to depopulate the hen house.

    ~ Lana ~

    “I didn’t know that in less than an hour I was going to tell the boss, ‘The audit is better than it looks. Guaranteed.'”

    ~ Knights festival ~

    Some victories aren’t the real prize.

    ~ Any of your own ~

    The beginning of a popcorn story:

    “Hi. It’s me again. Cranky. Suffering that disrespectful name has been worth it since what happened yesterday.”
    (A quick read. Under 500 words.)

    Alex, the value of your website is tremendous.


  16. Will Bontrager

    Alex, a note about the line breaks.

    Within the text box: Instead of a line break, a space is published.

    When it publishes: The line break publishes as intended.

    I tested 3 browsers on Mac OS and Firefox is the only one with this strange behavior. Safari and Chrome work as expected.

    Testing further, Firefox works as expected when a textarea field is tested on a separate page by itself on my development server. My guess is that Firefox and a CSS declaration aren’t playing nice.

    I have no idea what to do about it other than dig into details and try this and that until the reason is found, so this is just an FYI.

    Have a wonderful rest of the weekend.


  17. Anne

    Although the examples given are all single sentences, cannot a good opening consist of two or more sentences? I see that some of the responses are not limited to a single sentence. This is the opening to my WIP: a novella.
    ” If the world was coming to an end, Annamarie would choose to be here, at Windsong. As things were, her world was due to end on Thursday. “

    1. Alex

      It can definitely consist of more than one sentence; and some of the openings in this post do. It also depends on how you count – where does an opening end?

      I love yours; it does NOT cross the fine line between “witty” and “try-hard witty.”

  18. Sharon

    Thanks for the great post, Alex, as always. So helpful.
    ‘They’ say not to start a story with dialogue. I wonder what you think.
    Here’s the beginning chapter of my WIP.

    “Are you sure this is what you want, Bill?” Ron said, his brow furrowing when he saw the signed resignation letter Bill placed on his desk.
    “I’m absolutely sure, Ron,” Bill said with conviction. “I can hardly take one more day with someone who constantly puts the kibosh on me.”
    “Kibosh! Where do you get these words?”
    “Well, if you want to know the truth, a little birdie sits on my shoulder and tweets them to me. Then I look them up to see what they mean.”
    “Ha, ha, very funny, Bill, but I don’t have time for tweets right now. I’m swamped with work.”
    “All right, she’s a ball buster. I just can’t go on working for this firm as long as she’s here. Why, I’d even be willing to work for less money if I had to somewhere else, though that prospect is unlikely,” Bill said with bravado. He paused momentarily. An odd sensation of the plush carpet beneath his feet sinking a little, was unsettling.

    1. Alex

      Thank you, Sharon!

      You can definitely start a story with dialogue, why not?

      Your opening is a dynamic situation to start a story with. It introduces open questions begging to be answered, and also two (potentially) interesting characters.

  19. Jake cosmos aller

    here is the opening lines (revised) to my unpublished novel Timeless Love Stories based on my true fairy tale romance.

    The central mystery of Sam’s life began when he dreamt of meeting the woman of his dreams, and for eight years she haunted his dreams until one day she walked out of the dreams and into his life. The dream began one day in a high school physics class in Berkeley, California.

  20. Rainie Mills

    If I could be described in one word, it would be messy. My hair, my life, my relationships, and, even my job. I blot the coffee that seeped through the audit report that took two hours to print. I tried rubbing it, but that only smeared the freshly printed ink. Manfred will never take me seriously if I can’t even print a simple document and present it to him unsullied. I will remain at the bottom rung of the ladder indefinitely unless I can pull it together. I wipe the tear that threatened to spill, I don’t need anymore liquid near me. Two minutes until the meeting. If I print the first three pages again, maybe he won’t notice. I mean who really reads these things anyway.

    “Lana!” Manfred bellowed. “Where’s my report?”

    I shuffle the papers together and rush into the room. “Sorry sir, here you go.” I hand the documents over and scoot out of his office before he spots the brown rippled pages.

    1. Alex

      That’s a great beginning, Rainie, you got me hooked from the first sentence!

      Plus, we already have a very good basic grasp of what this character is all about, after just a couple of sentences.

  21. Maddy

    I realize I am so behind but here’s the opening paragraph to my current story:
    I pace the hallway, glancing into the room at the still, sleeping figure laying in the bed. Eyes closed, my hand comes up to pinch the bridge of my nose in frustration. I can’t believe I thought this would work! Ugh! How completely, repulsively, horrifically, idiotic I must be to even think this may be possible! There’s no way I could make her believe me…..believe my lies. That seems to be all I ever do– lie. Lie to my friends, my teachers, my parents….to everyone. I can’t get away from it. But- This time its for something good.

    At least… that’s what I keep telling myself.

    1. Alex

      No one is ever late on this blog, Maddy.

      I like your “lies” hook; you are opening up with powerful inner conflict – this is always of interest to us humans.

      Here is a detail that might be worth mentioning: Your character is “glancing,” and then immediately he/she has their “eyes closed.” While this is not illogical, it is confusing to me, like a bad movie cut.

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