I recently wrote about starting novels the right way, where I talked about the importance of hooking the reader with an exciting start that almost forces the reader to continue.
Below are five book beginnings that are so good the reader simply cannot stop reading. Some of these are from “genre” fiction, some from books that are “literary”. These somewhat contradict what I spoke about before, where the beginning sentence/paragraph has to be really exciting and hook the reader with suspense. The paragraphs below are so well written that the person holding the book simply forgets that he/she is reading at all. Do you know any of them? If you do, there’s a book waiting for you.
5 Great Beginnings. What books are these first lines from?
– 1 –
“A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it’s all theater. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an iron queen, and glass somwhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it’s night. He’s afraid of the way the glass will fall – soon – it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.”
– 2 –
“On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.
If he had been more analytical, he might have calculated the approximate time of their arrival; but he still used the lifetime habit of judging nightfall by the sky, and on the cloudy days that method didn’t work. That was why he chose to stay near the house on those days.”
– 3 –
“She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. There is another gust of wind, a buckle of noise in the air, and the tall cypresses sway. She turns and moves uphill towards the house, climbing over a low wall, feeling the first drops of rain on her bare arms. She crosses the loggia and quickly enters the house.
In the kitchen she doesn’t pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.
She turns into the room which is another garden – this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling. The man lies on the bed, his body exposed to the breeze, and he turns his head slowly towards her as she enters.”
– 4 –
“The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscoting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed mustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping.”
– 5 –
“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.
I felt that from the moment I woke. And yet, when I started functioning a little more sharply, I misgave. After all, the odds were that it was I who was wrong, and not everyone else – though I did not see how that could be. I went on waiting, tinged with doubt. But presently I had my first bit of objective evidence – a distant clock struck what sounded to me just like eight. I listened hard and suspiciously. Soon another clock began on a loud, decisive note. In a leisurely fashion it gave an indisputable eight. Then I knew things were awry.”
And now I want to give away a book. If you can tell me what books the five paragraphs are from, even just one of them, you are in. Every one you get right (answer in the comments) you get entered into a draw for a chance to win a a Kindle-format copy of The Hollows, a book I just finished that also starts by hooking the reader with great prose and got me thinking of others that did the same. Here is the first paragraph from The Hollows:
“When he walked out onto his front porch, the sun was just beginning to graze the horizon. The darkness of the surrounding woods slowly faded away, the outlines of trees creeping into view like reluctant giants. He held a cup of coffee in his hands, the steam wafting into his face. Leaning against the porch railing and sipping from the mug, he listened to the sounds of the night surrendering to the sunrise. A few daring crickets continued to sound out. A tree frog groaned nearby. Somewhere further off in the distance, on the other side of the forest, the Payne family’s rooster called out.”
The rules: for every one of these you get right (write your answers in the comments), you are in the mix. Get all five, that’s five times the odds. Cheating, copying and “Googling” is encouraged. Killing the other contestants to make sure YOU win is frowned upon. I have my follower count to consider.
The winner will selected randomly and announced in a blog post Sunday June 17th, or the day after. Make sure to sign up to the blog (a little button to the right) so you won’t miss out if you are the selected winner.
That prize again is a copy of Barry Napier’s The Hollows. Great cover, right?
Now get guessing!