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Opening Lines

by Kimn Swenson Gollnick

I keep a notebook where I collect pieces of prose enjoyed during my reading time. Here you'll find the first lines of books I've read. These excerpts simply help me study writing technique. See why you think these opening lines might be effective...or not.

The old man read the passage in The Prophecy once more and nodded solemnly. -- The Prophecy of the Stones, Flavia Bujor, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (c.2004, Miramax Books)

CLARE: The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble. -- National Bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (c.2003, Harcourt Inc.)

The gate was packed with weary travelers, most of them standing and huddled along the walls because the meager allotment of plastic chairs had long since been taken. -- Skipping Christmas, John Grisham (c.2001, A Dell Book)

This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. -- The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom (c.2003, Hyperion)

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. -- The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book #1), Lemony Snicket (c.1999, HarperCollinsPublishers)

Before September, I'd never seen a real person die. -- Once Upon a Gulf Coast Summer, Susan Oliver (c.2004, Broadman & Holman)

There are songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass, from the dust of a thousand country roads. This is one of them. -- The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller (c.1992, Warner Books)

Sunlight had faded from the late-afternoon sky. Puffy snow clouds were moving in. "Let's hurry. I'm cold," said Jack. -- Christmas in Camelot, Mary Pope Osborne (c.2001, Random House)

"I see the angel's wings," I called out, but Nana and Aunty Rose didn't answer. -- Over the River, Sharelle Byars Moranville (c.2002, Henry Holt)

The first thing I remember was my mother's crying. -- Jabez: A Novel, Thom Lemmons (c.2001, Waterbrook Press)

It all started one day earlier with a single silenced bullet out of nowhere. -- Black (Book 1), Ted Dekker (c.2004, WestBow Press)

Thomas urged the sweating black steed into a full gallop through the sandy valley and up the gentle slope. -- Red (Book 2), Ted Dekker (c.2004, WestBow Press)

Kara Hunter angled her car through the Johns hopkins University campus, cell phone plastered against her ear. The world was starting to fall apart, and she knew, deep down where people aren't supposed to know things, that something very important depended on her. -- White (Book 3), Ted Dekker (c.2004, WestBow Press)

Abbie MacKenzie was old Abbie Deal's maiden name. And because the first eight years of her life were interesting only to her family, we shall skip over them as lightly as Abbie herself used to skip a hoop on the high, crack-filled sidewalks in the little village of Chicago, which stood at the side of a lake where the bulrushes grew. -- A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich (a native Iowan!) (c.1928, Scholastic Book Services; reprinted 1997 by Puffin Books)

It was hardly the time or the place to be thinking about a horse, any horse, the man decided, even Man O' War. -- Man o' War, Walter Farley (c.1962, Random House)

"You can let me out here," Jerry Flack said to his mother. It was the first day of school, and the oatmeal Jerry had eaten for breakfast lay like a brick in his stomach. -- Dork in Disguise, Carol Gorman (c.1999, Harper Trophy)

My mother is a very particular woman, and that's how we got Mr. Pudgins. -- Mr. Pudgins, Ruth Christoffer Carlsen (an Iowan author!) (c.1951, Scholastic Book Services, reprinted 1980)

Ethan said, "I hate baseball." He said it as he followed his father out of the house, in his uniform and spikes. His jersey read ROOSTERS in curvy red script. On the back it said RUTH'S FLUFF 'N' FOLD. -- Summerland, Michael Chabon (c.2002, Hyperion)

It was a still October night. On the cliff top the harvest was gathered in and sheaves of corn were stacked together to form peculiar straw houses. -- Shadowmancer, G.P. Taylor (c.2003, Putnam)

They call it the cradle of Islam. A land covered by a white sand that hides vast reserves of black oil. A country where wealth is measured by the number of palaces a man owns. A kingdom ruled without a constitution, by a king and a thousand princes who hold all the positions of power. A society that guards dark secrets covered up with rubies and diamonds and black veils. -- Blink, Ted Dekker (c.2002, W Publishing Group)

In 1938, near the end of the decade of monumental turmoil, the year's number-one newsmaker was not Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, Hitler, or Mussolini. It wasn't Pope Pius XI, nor was it Lou Gehrig, Howard Hughes, or Clark Gable. The subject of the most newspaper column inches in 1938 wasn't even a person. It was an undersized, crooked-legged race-horse named Seabiscuit. -- #1 New York Times Bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Laura Hillenbrand (c.2001, Random House)

There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. -- Holes, Louis Sachar (Newbery Award Book, c.1998, Random House/Dell)

Flavia Gemina solved her first mystery on the Ides of June in the tenth year of the Emperor Vespasian. She had always had a knack for finding things her father misplaced: his best toga, his quill pen, and once even his ceremonial dagger. But this time there had been a real crime, with a real culprit. -- The Thieves of Ostia, Caroline Lawrence (c.2001, Roaring Book Press)

The planet Mars sparkled like a blood-red ruby against the blue star-frost of space. -- Timebenders: Lost in Cedonia, Jim Denney (c.2002, Tommy Nelson)

For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted to be a white horse. -- Dark Horse: The Story of a Winner, John Fischer (c.1983, Multnomah Press)

My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog. -- Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo (Newbery Honor Book c.2000, Candlewick Press)

Awakened by Socko's furious barking, Chantalene lay rigid in the darkness, listening. -- Perhaps She'll Die, M.K. Preston (c.2001, Intrigue Press)

Water. Valkerie Jansen forced one foot in front of the other, a weary survivor on a death march across a dry and barren planet. -- The Fifth Man, John B. Olson and Randall Ingermanson (c.2002, Bethany House)

The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. -- A Painted House, John Grisham (c.2000, Dell Publishing)

Valkeri woke up screaming. -- Oxygen, John B. Olson and Randall Ingermanson (Christy Award for Fiction, c.2001, Bethany House Publishers)

The ringing of an alarm clock dragged me reluctantly from a sleep at 5:45 A.M. on Tuesday, September 11.

-- Let's Roll! Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage,
Lisa Beamer with Ken Abraham (c.2002, Tyndale House Publishers)

Sandstorm! Across the plains, the black shell of the gigantic dome gleamed in late-afternoon sunshine. It was beautiful against the red soil, laden iron oxides, and the faded rose-colored Martian sky. From the bottom of the mountain where I stood, it took less than an hour's trek across the plains to reach it--in good weather. -- Mars Diaries, Mission 1: Oxygen Level Zero, Sigmund Brouwer (c.2000, Tyndale House Publishers), p.1

Charles Dickens almost gave up pursuing publication of his famous work, A Christmas Carol. This little book by Patricia Davis tells the story behind Dickens' struggle and how the book nearly never came to be:

There comes a time in many a man's life when, no matter how hard he has worked, how honestly he has labored, how bravely he has tried to defend his beliefs, he ought to consider giving up.

-- A Midnight Carol: A Novel of How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas, Patricia K. Davis (c.1999, St. Martin's Press), p. 1

Stories used to be easier to start before I found out about the innermost workings of the universe and all that stuff--I mean, back in the days, maybe a week ago, when I was just Gib Finney, a regular guy with a bedroom full of birds' nests, stringless yo-yos, baseballs, half-eaten Baby Ruths, and computer parts. The Power of Un changed everything. --The Power of Un, Nancy Etchemendy (c.2000, Scholastic Inc.), p.3

Warren Spalding felt split in two. One half of him wanted to hurry into Gram's house and tell her he was glad to see her. The other half refused to get out of the car. -- The Volcano Disaster, Peg Kehret (c.1998, Pocket Books), p.1

It isn't possible! Emilie Getz peered into the window of Benner's Pharmacy, amazed to find every detail exactly as she'd remembered. -- Bookends, Liz Curtis Higgs (c.2000, Multnomah), p.9

Alone in the dark, Art MacKenzie slouched on a torn sofa in his disheveled studio apartment. His bare feet rested on the single piece of furniture from his marriage he still possessed: a coffee table with one leg missing. -- Nephilim: The Truth is Here, L.A. Marzulli (c.1999, Zondervan), p.11

"Araminta Ross!" Minty heard Annie's call, but the young girl's toes just wiggled deeper into the warm dirt as she sat partially hidden by the drying bush. -- Courage to Run: A Story Based on the Life of Harriet Tubman, Wendy Lawton (c.2002, Moody), p.9

Clang, clink, clink. Clang, clink, clink. The sledgehammer beat a steady rhythm against the hot metal sheet on the anvil. "Papa? What are you making?" Mary spoke loudly because of the roaring fire in the forge. -- The Tinker's Daughter: A Story Based on the Life of Mary Bunyan, Wendy Lawton (c.2002, Moody), p.9

Down to the last day, even the last hour now, I'm an old man, lonely and unloved, sick and hurting and tired of living. --The Testament, John Grisham (c.1999, Doubleday, 435 pgs.)

It was on a cold January night when the unthinkable, unpardonable happened. -- The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers (c.1997, Tyndale, 376 pgs.)

The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me. -- The Street Lawyer, John Grisham (reprint edition c.1999, Dell Island Books, 452 pgs.)

Who am I? And how, I wonder, will this story end? The sun has come up and I am sitting by a window that is foggy with the breath of a life gone by. -- The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks (New York Times Bestseller, c.1996, Warner Books)

He left the coffee-scented warmth of the Main Street Grill and stood for a moment under the green awning. -- At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon (New York Time Bestseller, c.1996, Penguin Books)

"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. -- Charlotte's Web, E.B. White (c.1952, HarperTrophy, a division of HarperCollins)

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense. --Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling (c.1998, Scholastic Press, 309 pgs.)

A groan of pain and the whisper of running bare feet snapped Matthias to attention. He froze, trusting the night to conceal him as well as it hid violent men. In Jerusalem in the dark of the moon, thieves robbed at will. -- Matthias, Elsie J. Larson (c.1990, Harper & Row Publishers)

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. -- The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (c.1952, Simon & Schuster)

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. -- David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (c.1907, Alfred A. Knopf)

Only my father saw me to the Asheville station that Sunday morning. -- Christy, Catherine Marshall (c.1967, Avon Books)

Brenda Louise tumbled down and hit the living-room floor with a thump that rattled the vase on the coffee table. -- The Flying Chickens of Paradise Lane, Sylvie Adams Hossack (c.1992, Macmillan Publishing Co.)

Don't get me wrong; Camp Wahkah Wahkah wasn't the worst experience I've ever had. -- My Life As A Smashed Burrito with Hot Sauce, Bill Myers (from the first book in the "Wally McDoogle" series, c.1993, Word Kids)

It was a dark and stormy night.

--A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L'Engle

(c.1962, Dell Publishing)

Two legs dangled precariously over a jagged precipice. -- A Rift in Time, Michael Phillips (c.1997, Tyndale Publishing)

When the tire went flat for the third time that day, it went with a bang. -- The Velvet Room, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (c.1965, reprinted 1988)

Megan Parnell sucked in a breath of air so frosty it almost hurt. -- Trouble in Yakima Valley, Joan Rawlins Biggar (c.1998, Concordia Publishing House)

From his perch in the cherry tree Rob Mallory could see into the houses on either side. -- The View from the Cherry Tree, Willow Davis Roberts (c.1975, reissued 1998, Aladdin Books)

Even after six months, Joshua Ladd was so lonely he still hurt inside. -- Secret of the Shark Pit, Lee Roddy (c.1988, Focus on the Family Publishing)

"A bomb threat?" Jennie stared open-mouthed at her grandmother. -- Silent Witness, Patricia H. Rushford (c. 1993, Bethany House)

It wasn't that Omri didn't appreciate Patrick's birthday present to him. Far from it. -- The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks (c.1980, reissue ed. 1991, Avon Camelot)

Although there are thousands of private detectives in the United States, the town of Idaville had but one. -- Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All (book #5), Donald J. Sobol (c.1968, reprinted 1993, Bantam Skylark)

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. -- The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (c.1937, Ballantin Books)

The boy with the fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. -- Lord of the Flies, William Golding (c.1954, Capricorn Books / G.P.Putnam's Sons)

Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. -- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (c. 1950, Collier Books)

The canary-yellow three-by-five card fell to the floor, face down. -- Deadline, Randy Alcorn (c. 1994, Multnomah)

If Pa Freedman hadn't passed away, Libby would probably have stayed with my aunt Rose and maybe, just maybe, the rest of it wouldn't have happened. -- A Time to Speak, Linda Shands (c.1996, InterVarsity Press)

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Last revised November 15, 2005

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