First Lines

A great deal of importance is attached to creating the perfect introductory sentence for a novel. Almost every “How to Write” book or article emphasises this point, so I decided to have a look at the opening lines of some of my favourite horror novels, to try and find that elusive quality that makes a great first sentence.

“Almost everyone thought the man and boy were father and son.”

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

This was the first novel of King’s that I read, and it has remained my favourite, though I adore many of his books. This opening line is deceptively simple, revealing little but enticing the reader with unanswered questions. If the man and boy weren’t father and son, then what were they? Why did people think they were father and son? Where were the boy’s parents?

“I see…” said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.”

Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire

This opening line provides us with a little more information. It reveals, for example, that this novel features a vampire (though the title of the book gave that part away), and that this vampire is in the middle of a conversation. But who is he conversing with? And why? What does the vampire “see”? As a reader I was hooked from this first line.

“The scream was distant and brief.”

Dean Koontz, Phantoms

This opening line is also brief, but effective. Who is screaming? Why are they screaming? From the very beginning we are made aware that something very bad is happening, or about to happen, and the tone is set for the rest of the novel. 


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