Best Opening Sentences

Never open a book with weather.– Elmore Leonard (10 Rules For Writing)

The best opening sentences in novels take the reader captive immediately – they introduce character, setting and problem; they fire the imagination; and the action is clear:

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on … that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.– Kurt Vonnegut

(Vonnegut’s own Breakfast of Champions begins, “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”)

My favourite opening from a children’s novel is from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, deftly introducing people, place, and problem in a single sentence:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Test Yourself

Match these classic openings from children’s novels to the titles below.

1. All children, except one, grow up.

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

3.The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.

4. Here I am, Ralph William Mountfield, banished to my bedroom on Christmas Day.

5. Keith the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn.

6. My father is put in the stocks again! Oh! the injustice of it!

7. When Old Tip lost his bark, Uncle Trev had to teach his horse to bark and chase the cows up to the shed for milking.

8. It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

9. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Titles: The Iron Man, I Capture The Castle, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Devil-in-the-Fog, Matilda, The More the Merrier, Uncle Trev, Peter Pan

More: Advice for writing an effective opening (Jacob Appel).

 charlotte's web

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Best Opening Sentences”

  1. Mike Crowl Says:

    Hey, some delightful openings here, Raymond. I knew/guessed about half of them. And the Vonnegut quote is great as well. I read a book recently (and I finished it because I know the author and didn’t want to be stuck saying I hadn’t got to the end) but it began with four pages or more (on my Kindle version) of scene painting, narrated by a character who was being a tourist.

  2. Raymond Says:

    Hi Mike, thank you for that. Loved your recent Hitchcock movie blog by the way!

Leave a Reply