Friday, March 15, 2013

Opening Sentences

I have always been a little bit obsessed with opening sentences.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

A classic, right? The opening sentence is the very first thing the author wants to tell you. In a story of 80,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 words, where does the author choose to begin? What detail, what story moment, what description do they select to get the ball rolling? Something thematic? Something evocative? Something disturbing? Something mysterious? Those first words set the tone for what follows. They also establish, to a certain extent, the expectations of the reader.

So let me share with you the opening sentences of some of my novels. Which one do you like the best?

Mary of the Aether
The lunatic in the long, gray cloak dashed out of the forest and ran right up onto the front yard, waving his arms in front of him like a child playing tag.

Mary of Shadows
It was the screaming that brought the party to an end, the screaming and the blood.

Shadows of Tockland
David saw him first, the old man with the scabs on his head lurching out of his seat on the front row, clapping his big, gnarled hands and shuffling toward the stage.

A man in a tattered leather jerkin and pale blue doublet writhed in the shadowy space between the rocks, clawing at his clothes.


  1. The funny thing is every time I read the opening line to Mary of the Aether (which is surprisingly large amount, as I was using it to test various ebook readers), my brain narrated it using your voice, Jeff. How many times has my brain heard Jeff Miller saying "The lunatic in the long gray cloak..."?

  2. Well, strangely enough, I have read it aloud many times. I read aloud during rewrites, because I tend to catch more typos (but not all typos) that way. But you can't say it in my regular voice. You have to say it in my slightly lower, slower, more dramatic/weird voice.

    1. When I read it, I didn't read it in your voice. It didn't feel like it was written in it. I can't even force myself to read it in your voice.

    2. Force yourself, Donald! That is the only way.

  3. It felt lower, softer...more ominous.