My opening lines …

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“Are you a magician? Because baby, whenever I look at you
everyone else just disappears.”

Oh, sorry, that’s my pickup line. This here blog post is about opening lines, i.e., the opening lines of my novels.

This was a thing that drew attention not that long ago, with various sites listing the “best” opening lines of novels. Because we all know “best of” lists are so daggurned scientifically accurate. And, they are timeless! Great literature’s opening lines speak to the consistent and enduring human condition! Take, for example, this one from PRIDE & PREJUDICE:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

ORyan Gosling's opening linesh, jeez … time might have passed that one by. How lucky we are that Jane Austen never chummed with Lionardo DiCaprio (and to hell with society’s demands that men have no value if they are not good little hubbies!).

Or this classic kickoff sentence from Kafka, who gives absolutely zero shits about foreshadowing or setup and goes straight for the horror nut-punch:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

A novel’s opening line of a book is, of course, real, real important. If you want to sell books, that is. The opening line is a book’s way of making eyes at you across the room, gently patting the empty seat next to it at the bar and mouthing the words “why don’t you come sit down for a bit?” The opening line needs to make you want to get to know that book. And, hopefully, spend several tawdry nights together as it casts a spell upon you. When done properly, a first line leads you into a heated affair that makes you ignore friends, family and work.

Sure, that giddy emotion is transitory and will burn out in a handful of splendid days and nights, and, sure, that goddamn book won’t email you back and it stops liking your Facebook posts because now it’s “in a relationship” with someone else (because books are whoorish by nature and share their goodness with anyone who wants to dance), but you’ll always have the memories. If the rest of the novel delivers on the first line’s promise, those memories will be grand.

There are many lists of opening lines, like this one by Gawker, this one by the American Book Review, or this shameless one by The Guardian that turns one simple list into thirty stat-tastic individual page views.

As for my first lines, I’m listing them below. Novels only, and I am listing them in order of publication (hardcover only).

Paperback cover of the horror novel INFECTED by Scott SiglerINFECTED: Infected Trilogy I (2008):
Alida Garcia stumbled through the dense winter woods, blood marking her long path, a bright red comet trail against the blazing white snow.

CONTAGIOUS: Infected Trilogy II (2008):
It had to be a joke.

ANCESTOR (2010):
Paul Fischer had always pictured the end of the world being a bit more … industrial.

“You’re not welcome here, Paul.”

PANDEMIC: Infected Trilogy III (2014):
For a hundred thousand years, the machine traveled in a straight line.

ALIVE (2015):
A stabbing pain jolts me awake.

EARTHCORE (final version, coming in 2016):
Wilford Igoe Jr. wrapped his fingers around the pumpkin-shaped rock, moved it a half inch to the left, then waited to die.

And how about the GFL series? I think these are a little different, because the vast majority of readers of any series consume Books II-V after having read Book I. This means the “first line” is basically the last sentence on the entire book before it. People start Book II and beyond with extensive story knowledge, allowing for far more leeway with that all-important first line. To me, the open of Book II and beyond is more like a “first paragraph” to set the stage instead of a “first sentence,” and I use all the available space. That being said, my opening line to THE ROOKIE, Book I of the GFL series, is horrible. Unless you are already a football fan, that line is not only hookless, it might serve to turn the reader off. I should have gone with something more character- or setting-centric, but there’s no crying over spilled ink. It is what it is:

THE ROOKIE - Galactic Football League: Book OneTHE ROOKIE (Book I):
Third and 7 on the defense’s 41.

They came home at night. They came home champions.

Hello again, sports fans.

THE MVP (Book IV):
As a kid, Quentin Barnes had dreamed of seeing the galaxy.

The greatest moment of his life passed by in a blur of pain, the experience washed thin by anguish.
So there, you go, the first lines to my novels. No, they are not pickup lines, nor would they pass as such (although “Hello again, sports fans” could work in several midwestern states).

Do you have a favorite opening line that is burned into your brain? List it in the comments below and share with the world.

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  1. Joseph Aldred

    The earth was dead. A Signal Shattered by Eric S. Nylund. I don’t remember much about the book, but the first line snagged me–quite possibly had something to do with my mental place at the time.

  2. Zach J. Payne

    “It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.” — Laurie Halse Anderson, “Speak”

  3. sadock

    @scottsigler espoused (re: the GFL books): “I think these are a little different, because the vast majority of readers of any series consume [the remaining books] after having read Book I.”

    You know me. Of course your post got me to thinking. I have questions. If you don’t mind humoring me:

    1) Do you think of INFECTED, CONTAGIOUS, & PANDEMIC more as stand alone stories than as a series?

    2) Which category would you place the Generations Trilogy into?

    3) Has Crown or Del Rey nudged you to make your stories more self contained or include reminders in your current novel to reference previous books in a series?

    1. scottsigler

      @sadock: Howdy!

      1) I think they are a series. I always envisioned them that way. Hence the titles: INFECTED, just one person going through an ordeal; CONTAGIOUS, when that ordeal spreads to others; and PANDEMIC, when the whole world suffers.

      2) I count the Generations Trilogy as horror. They sell it as YA, and that’s cool.

      3) Del Rey is very easy to work with and open to ideas. They are in for anything that fans will like. They get the concept that they are making books for all y’all. If Easter Eggs and continuing storylines make people happy, then they are down with that.

  4. Barbara J

    That Jane Austin line always makes me laugh. No matter that I’ve read P&P at least 50 times.

    1. scottsigler

      Barbara: I assume sentiment that was relatively typical of that class during that time. I haven’t read it — is she being sincere or sarcastic in that comment?

  5. David Kaneshiro

    the obvious one: “the man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

    my personal favorite: “I’ve been stealing salt shakers again.” from Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

    1. scottsigler

      David: How the hell are ya? Good to see you back. Yeah, the “Man in Black” line has become a modern classic. How about Mathew Mcconaughey in that role, with Roland played by Idris Elba? That’s solid casting.

  6. Mike King

    It’s one if my favorite openings of all time from a book I first read in the summer before 6th grade….

    When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I only had 2 things on my mind. Paul Newman and a ride home.