That Beginning Sentence


You make a cup of peppermint tea, or a margarita, or pour yourself a pinot noir.

You unwrap a piece of dark chocolate to savor. You set the cut glass bowl of almonds next to you. You fill your sombrero-shaped chip-and-dip platter.

You settle into the reading nook near the bay window with your fluffiest afghan and your cat. Or you plump the cushions on your patio chair in the shade. Or you kick off your sandals and call your cabana boy over to adjust your beach umbrella.

You pull the dust jacket off your new hardcover and set it aside so it doesn’t wrinkle. You find the perfect bookmark. You crack the spine of your stiff paperback.

And you begin to read.

If you’re lucky, you’re immediately transported into another world, someone else’s life, a story you’ve never heard. You forget all about the guacamole and the margarita.

Some readers only give books a couple of sentences to grab them. I’m more generous because it seems like all the books on my TBR pile are there for a reason already. But if I’m browsing in the library or bookstore, I’ll only give a book a paragraph or two before I decide to re-shelve it or take it home for further investigation.

We’re all different, so what grabs me may not grab you, but here are some examples of openings from my shelf.


“All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.”




“She was the chosen one. For months, he had been studying the girl, ever since she and her family had moved into the compound.”





“On August 23, the day before the hurricane struck, Max and Bonnie Lamb awoke early, made love twice and rode the shuttle bus to Disney World.”





“My Uncle Pip died and left me his lucky bottle.”





“Killing isn’t the hard part.”




What do you think? Would you keep reading these? What are some of your favorite openings?


Author: Becky Clark

I write mysteries with humor and spend my free time attempting to rid my clothing of dog hair. My new book FICTION CAN BE MURDER, the first in the Mystery Writer's series, was out April 2018.

11 thoughts on “That Beginning Sentence”

  1. I’m like you – when I’m browsing in a bookstore I’ll only give it a paragraph or two before making a decision. You’ve got a good collection of first lines. Two of my favorite:

    “Jane, I don’t think she’s my mother.” – THE WRONG GIRL

    “Vicki Allegretti always wondered what it would feel like to look into the barrel of a loaded gun, and now she knew.” DEVIL’S CORNER


  2. WOW – I never open books in book stores. I buy by author or back of book blurb. Somehow I know if I crack that cover and get caught up, I’ll be there at closing time. I tried to touch screen the pages on Ordinary Grace just now, so you know I’m hooked.


  3. The riot had taken on a beauty of its own now. Arcs of gasoline fire under the crescent moon. Crimson tracer in mystical parabolas. Phosphorescence from the barrels of plastic bullet guns. A distant yelling like that of men below decks in a torpedoed prison ship. The scarlet whoosh of Molotovs intersecting with exacting surfaces. Helicopters everywhere: their spotlights finding one another like lovers in the Afterlife.

    – The Cold, Cold Ground – Adrian McKinty


  4. Thanks, Sam and Connie.
    More good openings, Liz.
    And Kait, you’ll love it! It was one of those books I’d have to stop, savor, and think, “What did he just do there? Must steal.”


  5. What grabs me in an opener is being instantly taken into an ordinary life, one any of us could relate to–but knowing that life is about to change. It’s a hard thing to pull off–combining the two without saying there’s going to be a tipping point…rather just evoking it.

    Thanks for sharing your grabbers!


  6. OMG, great opening lines! Gonna have to read those. Here are a few more:

    “Sirens and the scent of stange men drove Sarx and Tesla into a frenzy of barking and pacing as they tried to keep the intruders off our property without the aid of a fence.” THE DROWNING GAME by L.S. Hawker (I’m currently reading this debut novel and enjoying it.)

    “He came to lying on his back with sunlight pouring down into his face and the murmur of running water close by.” PINES by Blake Crouch (This is the third in a trilogy that got be buying everything he writes.)

    “By the third night the death count was rising so high and so quickly that many of the divisional homicide teams were pulled off the front lines of riot control and put into emergency rotations in South Central.” THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly

    “This is the thing I’ve learned: Even with a gun to my head, I am capable of being convulsed with laughter.” RELENTLESS by Dean Koontz

    “Kat Donovan spun off her father’s old stool, readying to leave O’Malley’s Pub, when Stacy said, ‘You’re not going to like what I did.'” MISSING YOU by Harlan Coben

    Super post, Becky!


  7. What great first lines! I have read many of them, but now I have a few more books to add to my “to read” list. Here’s one of my favorites:

    “I poisoned your drink.” from “The Blonde” by Duane Swierczynski.


  8. Jenny … you’re right, there’s a balancing act to openings. You’ve got to give the promise of the premise, without giving everything away and you have to make readers care about people they don’t yet care about AND events they might not understand. Tricky!
    Peg … gotta read that Dean Koontz one!
    3 no 7 … so simple, but how can you not want to read more of that one?
    Thanks, everyone. All of this makes me want to work harder on my opening sentences.


  9. I would absolutely read on from those beginning sentences! Like Kait, I generally don’t read opening lines in a bookstore. Too dangerous! One fun exercise is to keep a notebook of opening lines.


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