I never judge a book by its cover. I judge it by its opening. The first few lines draw the curtain upwards and tell me if the book is worth my time.
A great first line has the power to entice a reader to give the story a chance.
And that explains why authors spend days agonizing over that perfect opening line. The one that convinces the reader to read their story. The one that shows off an enigmatic, irresistible character.
Opening lines are your bait, your bargaining chances, and your siren songs. If you fail to master the opening, you risk losing your reader’s attention.
All right, now that we’ve established the importance of an opening sentence, let’s learn how you can write one:
A pithy insight: Succinct, cutting, and thought-provoking
Pithy insights are a staple of European classics. One of the classical ways of opening a story is with a thought-provoking statement. Paint a light-bulb picture for your reader. The entire crux of your narrative can sometimes be conveyed in a succinct, single statement. It should be snappy, memorable, and create a setting for the story that is about to unfold. You can use an ironic statement—a satirical comment. Or simply lay a clue to the direction in which your story is heading.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.
Action: Put something in motion.
This is one of the best writing tips I’ve come across. Start your story with a moving element. Your first sentence should show some action. This action doesn’t have to be noticeable, like a character chasing another character. It can be as subtle as the door that closes after the protagonist leaves the room.
Take this line for example:
“The shutters swinging in the storm winds were the only sign of her entry.” – Crown of Midnight, Sarah J. Maas
Dialogue: Draw your readers’ attention to the character
Just as people stop in their tracks on hearing someone say something, you can capture your reader’s attention with a line of dialogue. This doesn’t mean you’ve to start with something as bizarre as ‘I haven’t had sex in ten years.’ It can be something mundane.
Take this dialogue for example:
‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.’ – Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
An unsettling statement or a Lie: Challenge an underlying assumption
When in doubt, bust a myth. Say something controversial. Tell them something they’ve not heard before. Grab their attention and make them think. Tell a lie so enormous that it makes your readers suspicious.
Take this line, for example:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984, George Orwell
Basically, there’s just one simple rule for a great opening line. And that is it should pique the reader’s curiosity. It should have a shock factor that makes a reader re-read it. If not that, it should at least create an emotional connection with the reader.
Remember, good opening lines have the power to hook your readers through the rest of the story. So, get your creative juices flowing and produce a line that you won’t mind reading a thousand times over.
What are your favourite first lines from novels?