#Writing Challenge: Give us your best opening sentence!

We’re a couple of weeks into the 150 Day Challenge and many of you are plotting out your romance novel and thinking about how to hook your reader with a captivating opening. So we decided to revisit a popular challenge from last year: Give us your best opening sentence!

For tips on getting started and writing a strong opening, check out these great posts from Harlequin editors and authors:

Write a Book in 150 Days: Where to Start?

Harlequin Author Confessions: The Dreaded First Chapter!

First Chapter Needs from Harlequin Editors

Crafting Strong Openings

How to Write a Great First Chapter

First Page Feedback


But best advice?


Post your opening sentence in the comments below by end of day Sunday, July 16, 2017, and we’ll pick our Top Three on Monday!

137 replies on “#Writing Challenge: Give us your best opening sentence!”

I like this. Everything sounds sunny until you get to the last part. Grabbed my attention.

Thanks, Maurine. I think that’s what this challenge is all about to see if we can grab the editor’s attention in a single opening sentence. The first sentence all on its own should set the story’s pace from the get-go.

I also liked this sentence as it pulls me in and starts me questioning. One thing that I find though is when a character is introduced by first and last names, there is less intimacy than when introduced with a first name only.. Maybe this is just me, sorry.

What I like is the contrast between the beautiful sky and the horror. Well done, Chrissie!

**First paragraph rather than first sentence.**

:Jessie watched him walk across the bridge, even from a hundred yards away. It was his walk she noticed. Not a peacock walk, not a strut. But a fluid, loose-limbed walk with his shoulders seeming to move opposite his hips, step by step by step. His head moving left, then right, then left. What was he watching for? Saber tooth tigers? She couldn’t see his eyes yet, but remembered they twinkled as he looked deep into her soul.”

I like the last sentence best for a first sentence. 🙂 A little re-arranging and the paragraph would read fine.

Hi Ann – this is short and tight. I am sure it is a gun’s report but if you are using this as your first line it might be best to mention the fact. I am not great at using guns in my books because I don’t even own one. Lol. Just saying it would sound more intense.

Hey, Chrissie. Thanks for writing.

It’s not a gun. It’s champagne. The heroine has PTSD and has just been leveled a serious threat right before the shindig she’d been forced to attend.

I stuck with the first sentence guidelines But, I do own a gun, and it is extremely liberating learning to use it. In fact, I insisted to my husband –trained war vet – that “I” wanted one.

Haven’t qualified for a conceal carry “yet” but I can hit the bullseye from 25 yards. This from the gal who’d been afraid to learn to drive because she could accidentally hurt someone, I still startle at the range when the big guns come in, but I just fill cartridges and try to get over it ;^)

Oh my gosh! See how off a one-liner can be? It could go so many directions. That sounds like it is a great start then esp if she is having issues with loud noises.

Thanks, Chrissie.

I’m trying not to sweat it too much. I want to write tight and deliver the unexpected while giving the reader what she/he needs from Romantic Suspense.

We’ll see how it goes!

Happy writing ;^)

I wasn’t sure what “report” meant, but it’s always effective to start a story with a bang! Nicely done.

I love all the potential for conflict here, and had a lovely visual of his ex pouring beer over in a fit of pique somewhere down the line. Very evocative.

The race car rolled to a stop mere inches from her left foot, the driver glaring at her through the windshield.

~*~ First three sentences ~*~

Cassie threw the covers off herself, laying still, she tried not to breathe, senses on full alert. She’d heard a noise outside, beneath her bedroom window. She sat up right when she heard it a second time, leaning against the headboard, heart pounding inside her chest and pushed the “call alert” button around her neck.

Since you gave so many… how about using this for a first sentence: Cassie heard a noise outside, beneath her bedroom window.

Robin stepped through the metal barricade as the black-uniformed security guard pushed back a fan waving an autograph book and screaming for Jack Bryant.

Meg swallowed against rising nausea as the epicenter of every white – and heavily gray-tinged – lie of the past five years sauntered toward her.

I agree with Chrissie. Nice beginning sentence and I think sets up the conflict very well.

This is definitely a grabber, though I do agree with Chrissie, that the ‘grey tinged’ lessens the effect.

More important than road directions, what was Rachel running from? What was her fear level or what was driving her?

Yes, you’re right. I deleted out the first five or six paragraphs. I like this opening better.

Now Rachel Granger could finally cry.

Morgana fought the taloned hands pulling her away from the dais and the swirling, disjointed pictures in Christian’s eyes.

Hi Donna, this has great potential, but perhaps there’s a bit too much going on for one sentence (and I am guilty of this too). Fighting off taloned hands would take all my concentration and I would have none at all for Christian’s eyes.
The first part is enough to hook me into the action. (sorry for the pun)

Donna, maybe if you re-arraged the sentence say:
Morgana fought the the swirling, disjointed pictures in Christian’s eyes as talon-like hands pulled her away from the dais.

Thanks Kate & Chrissie!
Yeah, I combined some stuff for that dense first sentence 🙂

This sentence is from my contemporary paranormal romance: Grant Robert MacGregor and Death were on a first name basis.

Since it’s a paranormal, I’m wondering if Grant is an immortal? At any rate, I like the sentence. It draws me in.

Thanks Maurine and Kate!
Grant isn’t an immortal but he has a long life span.

Marcie – I didn’t mean to ignore your post. I think you want to use present tense in this one. “It is easy for people to say you can’t move forward if you are stuck in the past.” That asks a question like why? What happened to her/him?

A young girl, freed from the great hours of training required to prepare oneself for the conquest of a husband, will find herself with too many hours in which to get herself into trouble.

This piqued my curiosity–wondering what trouble this particular girl would get herself into. Nicely done.

Seconds after Donovan squeezed into his hiding place, the back door opened and he suspected he was about to break Rules of Operation Number Three.

Can’t wait to find out rules number one and two as well. Cardio and double-tap? Hunkering down beside him with a pounding heart.

Maurine, this is great suspense! I might tighten it up and leave out “he suspected”, then it reads tight and fast. Just sayin’…

No one has commented on this but I think it’s fun. All sorts of ideas come to mind. Can’t tell I’ve raised a ton of kids, right? 🙂

Yeah, I think this is so simple but so good. You’re right there in the story in someone’s family.

First, I must say this is an attention grabber. We all have words or phrases that remind us of certain things–Kate mentions below the association of “Jessica Parker” to “Sex and the City.” I’ve read this first line a dozen times and this statement still reminds me of the cartoon I saw years ago in Good Housekeeping of the mother dressing her toddler in snowsuit, boots, scarf, hat and mittens and when she’s finished, he says “I have to go to the bathroom.” Anyone who has cared for kids can relate to this. It may be just me, but this almost begs for a proper setup to be shown at its best. Like the father who has waited in line for two hours at the DMV and just as he is to be called, his toddler utters these words. Or the bank robber has ordered everyone to lie on the floor and be quiet or he’ll start shooting then the toddler says this. Putting this first, then telling the setup feels to me like saying the punchline too soon and ruining the joke. But that’s just me.

I agree, Maurine to a certain extent. I have a few books that open with dialogue. Because we were only supposed to use the “first sentence”, I chose to use a first line from a book that didn’t begin with dialogue. I’m sure BLU has more info to follow directly. I loved your scenarios tho. what a hoot at a bank robbery. It would have to be a romantic comedy. Lol.

Chrissie, I’m not saying anything against starting with dialogue. I do it myself. I love to read stories that begin with dialogue. I repeat here this is an attention grabber and I’m sure BLU has some very intriguing details to follow, too. Perhaps I used the wrong words when I said it begged for a proper setup. If we’re watching a movie, we have the benefit of visuals to help set up the situation. In a book all we have is the sequence of details the author chooses to give us. I just thought that if we knew how truly inconvenient those uttered words would be to the child’s daddy, it might pack a more powerful punch. But it’s BLU’s story; she can start with this statement and then set it up. I’m just suggesting that if that doesn’t work out for her, she could try an alternative and not just throw out the whole bit of dialogue. Which I see I didn’t say that well yesterday and you all can’t read my mind to know what I meant. So sorry about the misunderstanding here.

No problem, Maurine. I just like to put in my two cents and if folks listen that’s okay, but its okay too if they don’t. You are right on when you say it’s BLU’s story. We are all just trying to offer ideas. I can’t wait until the editors put in their two cents! 🙂

Lucy opened the inner door cautiously, and jumped at the sound of renewed banging on the outer one; the doorbell had stopped working a few weeks ago, like a lot of other things in her run-down cottage.

Andie – it’s the first of a trilogy I am writing for Modern. Three Italian brothers. Thank you for your comment!

Absolutely love this, Jacqueline! I love the way you have painted a picture and set up such an intriguing atmosphere! Great job and good luck, Jacqueline! 🙂 xoxo

Elise Edwards walked away from the epic disaster of an internet date vowing to herself that would be the last time she took advice from a ten year old.

I like this. It is a great opening sentence and would really catch my attention if it was part of the blurb on the back cover.

Thank you for the feedback. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s submissions and comments!

Myra rechecked the pregnancy kit which showed two pink lines. Her worst fears were confirmed. She was pregnant

I think with addition of some emotion on Myra’s part, the first sentence would stand on its own quite nicely. Intriguing beginning.

I agree with Maurine and Chrissie, although you could use a comma and ‘confirming her worst fears’ if you wanted to bring the reader directly into Myra’s emotional state.

The coffee sat neglected, forgotten in the visceral emotions that swarmed though Nathan as he read Cynthia’s obituary, his mind focussing and re-focussing on the same eight words: leaving behind her beloved daughter Zoe, aged two.

Kate, you actually have two complete sentences here and the first is good on its own. Put a period behind obituary, and the reader will think all sorts of things could be going on or about to happen. Of course, I love that its involving a secret baby. :).

Just a suggestion for the second half: His mind focused on the same eight words: leaving behind her beloved daughter Zoe, aged two.

*hangs her head in shame* I know! I had a less and a more option, and foolishly went with the more – a habit I must gain more control over. Thanks for your helpful feedback, I appreciate it. The less version:
The coffee sat, tepid and neglected, forgotten in the visceral emotion that pulsed through Nathan’s body as he read and re-read Cynthia’s obituary.

Could I suggest something to replace visceral? Visceral means deep, but are these happy deep emotions? Sad ones? Angry?

Kate – I was pondering your comment on only using the first name in the first line. I had used the full name of a character in another WIP and changed it to see what difference it made. You are absolutely right, it is so much better! Thanks for the tip.

Hi Anne,
I chose visceral because Nathan is reading the obituary of someone he knew on a first name basis. The fact it that the emotion hits him to the core implies her death is both intimately shocking and horrible – not just the sad news of the death of a chance acquaintance. While there are other words I could use, I want to illustrate the depth and immediacy of his instinctive reaction. Visceral ties Nathan’s emotional response directly to his nervous system – the core of his physical experience.
Thanks Jacqueline, I’m glad to have been helpful.

What a place to get into a discussion, but years ago, I was taught to always use the character’s first and last name when you first introduce them in the story, whether it is the first line or later. It would be nice to know what the editors think on this subject. Glad it was brought up. 🙂

Kate I would still get rid of the “read and…”. You don’t need it. He’s read it and now he is reading it again to allow it to sink in and as it does it really hits him–right to the core. Great job!

My comment about visceral was because on it’s own, it doesn’t give the direction of the emotions. Do you want us to think he’s devastated, or relieved or thrilled? Has he always hated this woman, or been in love with her?

I agree with Chrissie about leaving out “read and …” The fact that he’s reread it tells us he read it before. I do like the second attempt a little better. I’m wondering though, is the cold coffee more important than the daughter left behind? When I read your original sentence, the neglected coffee didn’t catch my attention, but the daughter did. Just a suggestion.

Hi Chrissie and Jacqueline,
I too learned the more formal way of introducing characters, but I think it depends on the character, the genre and how immediately you want the reader to identify with the character. For example, Dr. Jones, Indiana Jones and Indy identify the same character. As a goal of romance is to draw the reader into an intimate relationship with the character, I made an assumption that first name introductions did that more quickly. But I’m a novice, not an editor and so I spoke out of turn. I too would be happy to know what the editors think.
(Just thinking though, Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wears Prada would definitely NOT be a first name introduction!)
You’re right again with the read and re-read. I appreciate that. Thank you.

Hi Maurine,
Chrissie was right when she said I had two distinct sentences in the first attempt. If I had not mentioned the daughter, she would never have competed with the coffee. The death of the mother and the knowledge of a daughter should never have been squashed into a single sentence. I was trying to do too much at once. I agree on the re-read part though, thanks.

Lightning rent the dark sky,rain lashed against the portholes as Julie Bancroft peered out into the angry night.

The intended two mile run had felt so good with the morning sun rising, the shade afforded by the trees encouraged Addie to go a little further down her quiet country lane.

Lost in her thoughts as she covered the distance she heard the rumble of a motor before she saw it. It was a flashy blue classic, as it drew nearer she could see the driver. A man that looked as powerful as the car he was driving.

Emmaline O’Riley ran her fingers over the initials carved long ago into the weathered boards of Snug Harbor pier.

This is lovely – evocative, emotional, and begging for answers of who, when, and why? I do find, that a character introduced with just a first name has more immediate intimacy with the reader, but maybe that’s just me.

Kate – okay curiosity got the best of me and I skimmed through the first page of several HQ and other romance books. Every last one has the character’s first and last name the first time they are introduced. I’ve always done it in my own writing because that is how the writer introduces the main characters. I’ve read so many books (hundreds over the years) and they were all the same. Even though it sounds more informal and welcoming to use the first name basis. But we as readers do need to know the H/H identities asap in a story to keep the characters straight and to allow us to recognize other characters who may or may not share their last names. Does that make sense?

Chrissie and Kate, thank you for the feedback. Chrissie, I appreciate your research.

Cassidy headed out to tend her garden before preparing dinner but was stopped dead in her tracks at the sight in her backyard.

Good elements, Andie. Just a suggestion:

Cassidy stopped dead in her tracks at the sight in her garden (or backyard).

Tighter sounds better.

I like this too, and I can see Chrissie’s point about tightening it up, but I’m less of a Hemingway and more of a Heyer fan myself, so I like the information that tending the garden and preparing dinner gives about Cassidy as a person.

The details give you information about her, but maybe for sentence one you want to do more hooking than explaining.

Oh no, I am not a Hemingway fan, just of the fact he loved cats and lived in a beautiful place in the Keys. 🙂

Jessica Parker sighed with relief as she dropped into a secluded lawn chair and eased her shoes off two throbbing feet.

I beg your pardon, and I’m very sorry, but as soon as I read ‘Jessica Parker’ I thought ‘Sex and the City’ and it took me out of your story. I’m sorry.

I didn’t watch Sex and the City, though I have heard about it. I do love Sarah Jessica Parker though. She’s a hoot in most of her movies. This line is good, Bev, but the thing that caught me was “two throbbing feet”. I hope she has two. Lol. Just kidding. Change it to “her throbbing feet” and it reads fine.

I’ve never watched Sex and the City either – the names are just linked. I agree about the two feet. The assumption that feet come in pairs, unless, of course, they don’t (one foot, or three feet).

I’d forgotten my character’s last name and so Parker came to me (I wonder why!) and I put that in. Thanks for reminding me that “two” is unnecessary.

Hello, these are the first lines of a romantic fantasy about a captured werewolf.
English is not my native language and this was not proofreaded, so sorry for any mistakes.
When her stepfather began to shout, pounding the table with his fist, Shantelle looked wildly around, sure that this time he was directing his ire at her.
She looked to her left, to where he was sitting next to her mother, a cruel smile twisting his plump face. Thanks Goddess he was calling one of the guards, a tall
man who was walking towards their table, dressed in the yellow tunic and britches of the valadian guard.
“Bring the slave, so we can have some fun, but remember to tie his hands too this time, I don’t want to see him breaking any other nose today.”

Past Main Street, Christine felt light headed looking for him in the faces on the bus, the feeling retreating when she reached the hospital.

As he walked into the candlelit bar, a throaty laugh made him stop and stare at the woman who had starred in his dreams every night.

First Sentence: The darkness in her heart mirrored the gloom that descended over the woods where Agent Cassie Campbell crouched, her hand resting on the trembling back of her K-9 partner Maggie.

She looked from face to face, both hoping and fearing the decision that would result in the realization of her longed for dream and her worst nightmare.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Daniel stares into the eyes of a woman he once knew and loved.
I’m not letting you go. Understand?” He said.
Angela gave a light chuckle, You don’t have much of a choice and it looks like I don’t either. I’ve accepted that fact and so should you. I love you with all my heart and soul but its time for you move on.
“I will not move on! Not without you. Daniel exclaimed. Not without you!”
Angela sighed as she took his hands in hers. They were both shaking.
I love you but you must go on. She said, I’m not giving you a choice. Go find her. Marry her cause you loved her more than me.”
“You are the woman I love. Daniel said.
” I used to be the woman you love but I will no longer be. Angela replied, go find her and marry her and become the father to our children she’s carrying.

As Paige glanced around the room filled with people who were the creme de la creme of high society her gaze connected with a pair of steely grey eyes, glittering and hostile. her heart gave a lurch. Oh crap!

Lexie Ross tugged her long padded coat close, plonked herself on her suitcase and waited at Littleport wharf as instructed. 

Black smoke curled around the aged crown molding in the gatehouse bedroom, at the same time icy tendrils wrapped around Annie Flanagan’s wrist.

Book One: A bullet whizzed by her ear, much too close for comfort.
Book Two: Alexei’s heart pounded painfully in her chest.
Book Three: “You’re just being paranoid. Just plain old paranoid,” Joyce Watson mumbled.

Look at the top of the comments. They picked #1, 3 and 4. Patience Bloom, editor for Romantic Suspense, made comments on those three.

Stella never thought a trip to the home improvement store would result in the discovery of a small child, instead of the fancy mailbox she had been dreaming about.

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