A Study in Best-Selling First Sentences (part 2)

Snoopy, it was a dark and stormy night

As I thought about what I wanted to write about in today’s post, I remembered a post I wrote almost a year ago: “A Study of Best-Selling First Sentences.”

In that post, I listed a number of popular books from the NYT best seller list along with their first sentence (or two), and then I suggested three things those sentences had in common that make for a great opening line(s). I thought it might be interesting to take a look at more books to see if what I wrote last year still fits for 2014.

Here were the 3 similarities: 

1. A character introduction // 2. Visual description // 3. A sense of movement

I won’t go into those in this post. I will instead refer you to the original.

The following books are taken from the current list of New York Times Fiction Best Sellers (both paper and hardback) for the week of May 25-June 8, 2014.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.”

Field of Prey by John Sandford

“The fifth woman was a blond waitress who enhanced her income by staying late to do kitchen cleanup at Auntie’s, a diner in Faribault, a small city on Interstate 35 south of the Twin Cities.”

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

“I sometimes think to myself that I’m the last of my kind.”

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.”

What do you see in these lines?
Do you see a character introduction? How about visual description? Movement?

I think all these lines have at least two traits. Not every opening line will have all three, but I think we have a good place to start when we’re thinking about how we begin our stories.

Do you notice any similarities in opening lines of the books you read?

One thought on “A Study in Best-Selling First Sentences (part 2)

  1. I love paying attention to opening lines, especially when I find some of my favorite books actually don’t have very good opening lines. Wikipedia has a whole page on opening lines: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Opening_lines
    My favorite is J.M.’s Barrie’s Peter Pan: “All children, except one, grow up.” Guess that would be character introduction?

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