20 Captivating Opening Lines of Novels

“It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” — Stephen King

Getting a reader invested in your story from the get-go is very important.

A good opening line pulls us in right away. A good opening line has me thinking to myself, “hell yeah”, and I know that’s it’s extremely likely that I’m in for a fun or interesting ride.

A great opening line can give you goosebumps.

It can make the hair on the back of your neck stand-up.

It can send a sense of calm through your body as you feel totally sucked in and absorbed by the novel in your hands.

For two years, I’ve read a novel a week. As an avid reader and writer, I’ve become very conscious and appreciative of great openings — sometimes it’s a chapter in it’s entirety, sometime’s it’s a killer opening line.

“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” — Stephen King

A brilliant first line makes the reader want to know more. On its own, it can leave the reader thinking, excited for all the possibilities to come.

Its aim can be to scare, to intrigue, to mystify or to excite. It can be used to confuse, entertain or shock. But whatever it’s being used for, you want the reader to sit back and think, “Here. We. Go!”

Below are 20 brilliant opening lines that pull your right in -

  1. “To the best of my understandably shaky recollection, the first time I died it went something like this.” Private by James Patterson
  2. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
  3. “The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years — if it ever did end — began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” It by Stephen King
  4. “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.” The Stranger by Albert Camus
  5. “All children, except one, grow up.” Peter Pan by JM Barrie
  6. “We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  7. “The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes.” Girl at War by Sara Nović
  8. “On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide — it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills — the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.” The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  9. “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.” City of Glass by Paul Auster
  10. “I’m pretty much fucked.” The Martian by Andy Weird
  11. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Charlotte’s Web by E B White
  12. “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
  13. “I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife’s grave. Then I joined the army.” Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
  14. “I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.” The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  15. I was not sorry when my brother died.” Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
  16. “They shoot the white girl first.” Paradise by Toni Morrison
  17. “I first noticed I was missing on a Thursday.” Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
  18. “First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.” The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  19. “You stop fearing the Devil when you’re holding his hand.” Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
  20. “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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