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By Roger Paulding

Through my binoculars, I could see the nice forty-something-foot cabin cruiser anchored a few hundred yards offshore. There were two thirtyish couples aboard, having a merry old time, sunbathing, banging down brews and whatever. The women had on teensy-weensy little bottoms and no tops, and one of the guys ws standing on the bow and he slipped off his trunks and stood there a minute hanging hog, then he jumped into the bay and swam around the boat. Plum Island, Nelson DeMille

There was death at its beginning as there would be death again at its end. Though whether it was some fleeting shadow of this that passed across the girl’s dreams and woke her on that least likely of mornings she would never know. All she knew, when she opened her eyes, was that the world was somehow altered. The Horse Whisperer, Nicholas Evans

It was the coldest winter for forty-five years. Villages in the English countryside were cut off by the snow and the Thames froze over. One day in January the Glasgow-London train arrived at Easter twenty-four hours late. The snow and the blackout combined to make motoring perilous; road accidents doubled and people told jokes about it was more risky to drive an Austin Sever along Piccadilly at night that to take a tank across the Siegfried Line. The Eye of the Needle, Ken Follett

He rode into the dark of the woods and dismounted. He crawled upward on his belly over cool rocks out into the sunlight, and suddenly he was in the open and he could see for miles, and there was the whole vast army below him, filling the valley like a smoking river. The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

The sun is about to set. I check myself in the mirror—glowing eyes, dark brows, small triangular face, medium-length dark hair parted on the side. I brush down some wisps so they fall across my forehead, then dress to go out—black T-shirt, black leather jacket, sneakers, Contax camera around my neck. The Magician’s Tale, David Hunt

Clad in a plain blue linen shirt and breeches, on his back a red pea jacket stolen from a French sailor, Richard Makepeace sat on a three-legged stool before the bar of justice. Heavy chains circled his chest and looped his wrists and ankles. An iron collar embraced his neck. The Pickled Dog Caper, Roger Paulding

At the first gesture of morning, flies begin stirring, Inman’s eyes and the long wound on his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings, and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward. He flapped the flies away with his hands and looked across of the foot of his bed to open the triple-hung window. Ordinarily he could see to the red road and the oak tree and the low brick wall. And beyond them to a sweep of fields and flat piney woods that stretched to the western horizon. The view was a long one for the flatlands, the hospital having been built on the only swell within eyeshot. But it was too early yet for a vista. The window might as well have been painted gray. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

All of these openings reveal:

  • The main character. Pertinent information is disclosed about his character, his emotions, his status in life, etc. Something that intrigues the reader. This is someone I want to know more about!
  • The fact that he is about to undergo a significant change in his life.
  • Reader is left with unanswered questions. Do not pose questions and immediately answer them.
  • A minimum of setting, except to alert the reader that she/he is entering an unknown, exciting new world.

While it may not appear in the opening line, the character’s motivation should appear by the end of the first… here are the rules which some of the above openings violate, but which you should heed, because they have been done so often, they are clichéd:

  • Don’t open with a weather report.
  • Don’t open with a dream or a character waking up.
  • Don’t open with dialog (this is an iffy rule).
  • Don’t suggest the story may be filled with gore—turns off a lot of female readers.
  • Do not have the character look in the mirror and describe him/herself.