It’s All In The Opening

In the last couple weeks, I received four new books in the mail! Whooo-hoo! It almost felt like Christmas.

As so often happens, when the new books come, I immediately grab them up and read a few pages, never mind what other books I might already have started. Inevitably I have to re-read those pages to recapture the story, but I don’t mind. I think I’m more in tune with what’s happening the second time around. You see, it’s pretty hard to capture my attention right off. I’m the one who had to start The Hobbit three times before getting into it.

Just for fun, I thought it might be interesting to give you the openings of the books I received and let you vote on the ones that captured your interest. I’ll make it multiple choice so that you can choose more than one answer if several (or all) hook you. I think I might throw in one or two others, too, just to spike the punch. 😉 So here they are, in no special order:

Choice A

    Sirens called him from his dreams. When the racket stopped, he rose and crossed the little bedroom of his hotel suite to lean out into the night, trusting his life to the freezing wrought iron railing just beyond the window so he could gaze down into the alley where a couple of New York City’s finest had thrown some guy against the bricks. Even from five floors up, even in the dark, Ridler recognized the lust for violence and the fear down there, but that was nothing compared to the play of the police car’s lights on the wall across the alley.

Choice B

    “And I say that you’re a fool, Addison Fletcher!” the brawny man declared, striking his ale mug against the bare wooden table for emphasis.

    “God smite me where I sit if I tell a lie, Coll Dawson!” Addison protested, his eyes flicking heavenward for the briefest of moments.

    “Ah, but — did you not say,” declared Coll, cocking an eyebrow and pointing a finger. “Did you not say that you got this account from another –”

    “From Rob Fuller,”piped a voice from the end of the table.

    “Aye, from Rob Fuller. And who’s to say that a tale told by Rob Fuller is true or false? Swearing oaths upon secondhand tales is not wise.”

Choice C

    It wasn’t a sound that woke Janner Igiby. It was a silence.

    Something was wrong.

    He strained into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his neck, shoulders, and thighs. Every time he moved he was reminded of the claws and teeth that had caused his wounds.

    He expected to see the bearer of those claws and teeth asleep in the bunk beside him, but his brother was gone. Sunlight fell through the porthole and slid to and fro across the empty mattress like a pendulum, keeping time with the rocking of the boat. The other bunk’s bedclothes were in a heap on the floor, which was typical; Kalmar never made his bed back in Glipwood, either. What wasn’t typical was his absence.

Choice D

    From a snug in the corner of the Museum Tavern, Douglas Flinders-Petrie dipped a sop of bread into the gravy of his steak and kidney pudding and watched the entrance to the British Museum across the street. The great edifice was dark, the building closed to the public for over three hours. The employees had gone home, the charwomen had finished their cleaning, and the high iron gates were locked behind them. The courtyard was empty and, outside the gates, there were fewer people on the street now than an hour ago. He felt no sense of urgency: only keen anticipation, which he savoured as he took another draught of London Pride. He had spent most of the afternoon in the museum, once more marking the doors and exits, the blind spots, the rooms where a person might hide and remain unseen by the night watchmen, of which there were but three to cover the entire acreage of the sprawling institution.

Choice E

    The lantern, dangling from Repentance Atwater’s upstretched hand, cast a pool of yellow light around the village midwife, as she stooped beside Joy Springside’s sleeping mat. The rest of the cave lay in darkness.

    “Push, now, Joy!” the midwife commanded.

    Joy, her face scrunched with the effort, pushed.

    The baby came finally, all purple-skinned and slick with blood and screaming his protest at the world.

    Screaming his protest.

    A boy!

    It wasn’t fair! Lantern light splashed up and down the walls as Repentance’s hand shook.

    She grimaced, as the babe’s squalling bounced off hard stone walls and bruised her raw nerves. She should never have agreed to this.

Choice F

    A uniform named Nguyen is on the tape tonight. The flashing lights bounce off the reflective strips on his slicker. He cocks his head at my ID and gives me a sideways smile.

    “Detective March,” he says, adding my name to his log.

    “I know you, don’t I? You worked the Thomson scene last year.”

    “That was me.”

    “Good work, if I remember. You got a line on this one yet?”

    “I haven’t even been inside.” He nods at the house over his shoulder. A faux Tuscan villa on Brompton in West University, just a couple of blocks away from the Rice village. “Nice, huh? Not the first place I’d expect to be called out to.”

    “You think death cares where you live?”

    “I guess not. Answer me one thing: why the monkey suit?”

By the way, if you think you know who the author is, feel free to leave a comment and give us your guess. However, if you’ve read the book and actually KNOW who the author is, please limit your comment to a hint but don’t spoil the chance others have of guessing.

Remember, vote for all the beginnings that hooked you. The poll will remain open for a week.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 6:14 pm  Comments (31)  
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  1. I didn’t care for B because I don’t necessarily like being dropped into the middle of a conversation at the beginning of a book. It’s OK if a book begins with conversation, especially if it’s a conversation that’s controversial/tied in to the plot, but being kerplunked in the middle is too confusing.

    As for E–well, I just don’t like stories beginning with a birth. The poor gal has my sympathy, but it just doesn’t grab my attention.

    And I know the books & authors of C & D, but I won’t say anything. I’ve only read D, but I’ve read the prequels to C. 😉


  2. Speaking of openings…this was eye opening. None of them suck me in and make me sure I’ll want to read them, but I would give all of them a couple of more pages to see if they would suck me in.

    I think I can do better on all my openings if I pretend they’re going to be cut off and judged on the first hundred words. I bet I can make myself set a hook in the first hundred words. This is brilliant. I’m so glad you posted this.

    I recognized the writing in F right away. And I have read the first books in the series belonging to C.

    My favorite was C, but I’m not voting for any of them because none of them hooked me solidly. Or I’d vote for all of them because I’d keep reading all of them for a little longer to see if they might hook me. Depends no how you define hooked, I guess. I’m following the worm on all of them, but the hook hasn’t been set in any of them.


  3. O.K., so I’m a curious little fishy [read “sucker”]. To a certain extent, they all drew me in. C was most gripping, because it was most unusual, but I want to know what is in those police car lights on the wall, if Addison Fletcher is a fool, how i could be gripped by the slow pace of D–perhaps because someone did homework on local details?–who it is that might be lurking and whether they will enter the scene soon, in the first ones.

    I am a little put off by the obvious names in adult reading in E, but like the rest, because it is lively and picturesque reading and wonder about the mid-wife’s problem with delivering a boy.

    F should be F on the list, I think, but it still qualifies for T.V., obviously!

    If I say nothing, you might think I know something about the authors, but choose not to say it. Since that is not true, you may as well know I don’t have the luxury of reading much, at all, as yet. Perhaps then, you will not take offense if I can’t always participate, and you will know your post was likely worth the comment it did not receive!

    God’s Richest Blessings!


  4. On second thought I will vote for C. The hook is there. If I hadn’t read the previous books, this one would still hook me because Janner Igiby (fantastic name) has been wounded by claws and teeth and then we find out that the claws and teeth belonged to his brother. This is really a wonderful hook.


  5. I’m especially enjoying these comments. What you all see in each excerpt and how you react to it is so interesting. I never realized how leaving off titles and authors makes this so obviously all about the writing. No covers, no platform, not even a synopsis — just this hundred or so words. Now that, I think, is a real test of a hook. (Wish I’d put one of my own in there! Missed opportunity! 😉 )

    Oh, and thanks for sharing this post. The more participants we have the merrier — and the more educational!



  6. My vote was skewed: I’ll admit that. Don’t even want to read historicals or fantasy so within a sentence or two, I’m done with those no matter how good the writing. I know: unfair. I voted for A and F because I’ve read them both and they’re very well written, both intriguing stories.


  7. When I am choosing a new book and can read the opening chapter, what I am looking for is the tone. A sets a strong mood, but I’m not going to read about New York violence unless you give me a great protagonist. For all I knew, “Ridler” was “Riddler.”

    B is the worst opening. I have no idea who they are or what the heck they’re arguing about. Now, you’d suck me right in with, “If you think I’m going to let you marry my daughter, you’re a fool, Addison Fletcher!” (Skipping C for now.)

    As for D, it got me at Tavern but lost me at “sop” and “kidney pudding.” English cooking isn’t exactly the most delectable hook. The same with E. Childbirth is a wonderful subject, but to start off with blood and a disappointed mother, the wonder is lost! (For a winning alternative, read the opening of “Peace Like a River.”)

    F: First person is a turn off unless I really like the voice of the narrator. F also bombs by using police lingo that is easily misunderstood: “A uniform named Nguyen is on the tape tonight.” What tape? Video? Scotch? Oh…crime scene tape. Don’t make me reread in the first paragraph! A better mood setter is the flashing lights. (“Peace Like a River” is first person with the most charming narrator! “From my first breath in the world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with–given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the 20th century. Think about your own first gasp: a shocking wind roweling so easily down your own throat, and you still slipping around in the doctor’s hands. How you yowled! Not a thing on your mind but breakfast, and that was on the way.)

    Finally C. The idea of being awakened by silence is fascinating. Already I’m asking the question: “What does he usually hear?” And, whutheheck??! He sleeps next to something with claws and teeth and it’s his brother??! I’m in!


  8. C intrigued me because of the claws and teeth. I immediately felt it must be sci-fi of some sort–hopefully not vampires, as I really don’t care for vampires. But it made me wonder about what kind of alternative world this might be. Unlike earlier posters, I was captured by E, because I wanted to know why she was unhappy to have a boy and what she had gotten herself into. And I am drawn by good characters more than by action.

    To be fair, I must note that I am not a reader of detective fiction, so those didn’t capture my interest more for the subject matter than the particular approach.


  9. This was interesting to read! I’ll be honest–I don’t pay that much attention to opening lines of a book when I decide whether or not to read it. I am more likely to open it somewhere in the middle to get a taste of the writing style, and then to read a synopsis on the jacket. None of these openings made me eager to read the books, although I liked the style of D best, and then C.

    C has the best hook, though I would be wary of whether the story will measure up.

    I know I’m weird, but I’m not a fan of the “jump into the action” beginning. I prefer to get attached to the characters before the action begins–that way I actually care what happens to them. I like a book to read like a book, not a television show or movie.

    And. . .just to be difficult, I’ll state my opinion that too much emphasis is being placed on opening line hooks and not enough on original story and style in modern fiction.


  10. Whoo. You gave too many choices. I didn’t like the one that started with dialogue at all (B). The others all caught my attention and made me want to read more. I voted for E because there was some dialogue but not so much that you couldn’t get a grip on the setting. The others had either too much dialogue or not enough.


  11. Actually—I needed a choice of “G”–because none of them really made me sit up and take notice.

    But then I’m probably different from others–I know what fiction I’m looking for before I even hit Amazon, and when I do narrow the choices, I will give it quite a bit more then a few paragraphs to make up my mind.


  12. I found C to be the most provoking. Here’s this guy who sounds like he’s regularly abused by his brother–but he shows a sense of caring for his abuser. Despite his pain, he’s worried about where his brother is. So, right away, you like the protagonist. He’s an empathetic character, and the reader wants to know what causes him to still care for someone that so abuses him, why he’s torn up, why he’s on a ship–not land where he’s accustomed to being. It’s a good set up piquing my curiosity.

    The others had some action, some introspection, but there wasn’t anything to make me care about the characters yet–so it was rather like watching strangers pass in in the street. 🙂


  13. I didn’t vote because I know all of these authors except one. B and D are in my TBR pile, but if I didn’t have some familiarity with the writers already, the opening paragraphs alone would not make me pick up the book. In fact, they might actually turn me away.

    The opening of C gives a good hook, and the book more than lives up to the first paragraphs (at least in my opinion). I’ve also read and enjoyed F, which makes it difficult to objectively examine the opening apart from the rest of the story.

    Because I know a little about E, I was intrigued by the sample here and wanted to know what would come next.

    This was an interesting exercise, Becky!


  14. C intrigued me with the sentence “It was silence.” How could a silence awaken someone? Love the feel of the opposite.

    Then in E, Repentence (a woman) seemed disappointed that a boy was born. She appeared to have a unique interest in the birth and the sex of the baby. I wanted also to know why the woman was giving birth in a CAVE. Ok, this has a couple of interesting points that I want to know about.

    Thanks for the challenge.


  15. […] this week over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, I invited visitors to look at the openings of six different novels. Why not take a few moments to […]


  16. I voted C. Is it yours?


  17. I would not say any of these intros truly hooked me. If they had I’d want to know what the books were so I could read them myself. I will say that C & E are interesting enough that I would like to read further to decide if I’d like to read it- and I have read a little more of C somewhere else- so I know who the author is and hope to read the book sometime.


  18. Decided to do some homework and truly share my thoughts. Maybe it will help me be more critical of my own writing. Hope this doesn’t offend anyone (I know at least one of the authors is posting here) but here I go:

    A is only three sentences and the second two are run-ons with too many adjectives. I can’t read this kind of writing very long.

    B the people at the table next to me are talking too loudly. I don’t know who they are and don’t care to. I’m bothered by the commentary on their actions too. If I had any idea who these people were and the excess phrases were eliminated: “for emphasis”, “for the briefest of moments” (I think “flicking” already implied this), “a finger” (what else would he be pointing?)… I was trying to say what it would take for me to like this one but it’s too much, sorry.

    C Good start, but it could end up too strange for me. I am curious.

    D feels like the author is trying too hard to sound like they have first hand experience of the setting, but it feels forced not natural. I’m also turned off because I feel the character is plotting a robbery and I’m given no compelling reason for “why”.

    E I like this one. The character names are a bit of a turn off, put me on guard against an agenda, but the setting and the action and the dialogue all leave nothing to complain about. I am curious. And I miss-spoke in my previous post. This is the one I’ve read a bit more of, know who the author is, and intend to read. Not sure why so many are bothered by starting with a birth. I believe the greatest story ever written started that way.

    F Like B I feel like I’m listening in on a conversation that I have no reason to be listening to. I’m not interested. Why am I here observing this conversation that is not even interesting?

    That’s my rationale of why I liked C and E and not the others. Thanks, Becky! This was fun.


  19. C was good, but since I’m not fond of children E was pretty appealing to me, LOL!


  20. I’ve read B and D already.

    E is just….I don’t know, a little out there, slightly gross, and odd to read about a baby that was purple. So E doesn’t do it for me(with just the teaser).

    So many of them seem so narrative heavy and not even internal monologue it makes it hard to pick one. I am going with B, however. It seems to grab me more than the others, 🙂


  21. I’m with C and E because I’m a googlehead these days and don’t want to read paragraphs longer than three short sentences long. I also like dialogue.

    Like Sally, I love the name Janner Igiby, and I’m curious.

    I don’t understand the first sentence in the last one, unless “a uniform” means an official wearing a uniform. But see, I’m already puzzling over what that means which has stopped the read. If I have to think too long about what you’ve said in the opening words, you’ve lost me.

    B normally would catch my interest because of the dialogue, but I don’t like the dialect and so I’ve had enough.

    Funny. Can I send you the first paragraph I’m struggling with, oh former critique grouper . . . ? 🙂


  22. Choice A seemed less “writerly” and more “realistic” without all the writerly tics we writers are told to include in a first paragraph. It feels real, unpretentious. It gives information without feeling like an info-dump. The others had the “taut” in medias res opening down so badly that they felt almost formulaic and amateurish. I know folks expect that kinda stuff to pull people in…but they felt overdone: all the names, the traumatic life-changing situation, the emotion and sudden change…that one is supposed to put into the first opening paragraph of a novel was all there in everything after A and for that reason, the felt very amateurish. Everything is spelled out in big clues that shout at the reader. The opening of choice A hints at atmosphere, changes, but primarily at the main character as we look at everything slowly and present through his eyes… We have a chance to breathe before we are thrown into the fray. It feels real and not like a manipulative ploy. I guess I’m just kinda burned out by openings that follow the rules to an almost silly extreme. Those endings hint at a book by someone hell-bent on following the writing rules, and rule-bound books never interest me. I will admit though that being in a spec-fic mood I was momentarily confused and couldn’t figure out if the sirens were either mermaids, seductive women, police or fire sirens. Stumbled over that for a while.


  23. “I will admit though that being in a spec-fic mood I was momentarily confused and couldn’t figure out if the sirens were either mermaids, seductive women, police or fire sirens. Stumbled over that for a while.”

    Had that problem too.


  24. […] forget to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll — it will remain open for four more days. Rate this: Share this:MoreDiggEmailLike […]


  25. I love these comments. It is so enlightening to hear what each of you thinks about the various excerpts. Thanks so much for taking the time.

    Bob, how nice of you to think I might have written C. But no, I decided against putting mine in the mix. I have the first chapter of my first novel posted here and I thought some people might recognize it and that would skewer the vote and possibly affect the comments. Only later did I think that I should have included the opening of one of the other books.

    But I’m still learning. I did, in fact go back to my first novel and revise the opening scene, in large part because of what I heard from a number of you!

    Three more days to vote. Tell your writer groups and friends and reading clubs. The more people who vote, the more telling will be the results, I think.

    I’m wondering, for instance, if men will be drawn to some of these more than others or if young adults will prefer a couple more than us older folk. I may need to do this another time with a different group and actually frame it as a survey so I know a little more about each respondent. But for now, i think this is outstanding!



  26. […] are still three days left to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll. Rate this: Share this:MoreDiggEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Published […]


  27. G, none of the above.


  28. Good job on this, Becky! I definitely chose “C” although a couple of the other ones were kind of interesting, but that one got me the most interested in wanting to read more.


  29. Interesting that some of you were confused by the siren in F. I admit I needed to slow down there and figure it out.

    No hooks, eh, John? You’re right. I should have had a choice on the poll to reflect that. Opportunity missed!

    Thanks, David. It has been so interesting, not only to see the results but to read the comments saying why people feel the way they do.

    Special thanks to those of you who are sharing this poll with others. The more responses, the clearer the picture about what makes an opening work, I think.



  30. A has an interesting beginning but doesn’t sound like the type of book I would typically read.
    B doesn’t interest me at all because it gives me no reason to care about the argument.
    C has me wondering from the beginning what I will find by the end of the story.
    D opens with me wondering why he cares about the hiding places.
    E Has me immediately wondering what Repentance’s story is.
    F causes me to speculate on several things: who died, why the tux, what kind of history to these people share.

    My vote for favorite openings goes to E and F


  31. Thanks, Shirley. I appreciate your feedback. It’s so interesting and helpful to hear what readers think of these openings.

    On Saturday I posted the results, including the titles and authors of the books, in case you’re interested.



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