Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Opening Line

On my last post, I discussed the troubles that plagued the first chapter. Well, I thought I’d explore a facet of the first chapter that I know many of us obsess over: The Opening Line.

What a great opening line does for your story:
  • It engages the reader
  • It sets up the voice of the story
The first line is essentially the receptionist for your novel. Have you ever gone to an office and the receptionist was…well, terrible. She smacked gum and talked fast. She threw her hands up to silence you because she was taking a personal call. She gave you the “how dare you interrupt me” look. Well, that’s kinda how some of our opening lines are.

We pull them from somewhere obtuse and smack them on our book. I’ve seen opening lines that have absolutely nothing to do with the book. A line floating from somewhere ominous and you wonder while reading the first page: What does that mean? What does that have to do with the story? You’re readers shouldn’t have to guess about things like that. If they do, they may not continue reading.

What’s a “good” opening line? Honestly, I can’t tell you that either. For every book, it’s different. What it must have, however, is:
  • Some relevance to the story – even if it’s a random thought, make it relatable to the story in some way
  • Something that will draw the reader in and hold their attention

However, I caution you. Don’t try to perfect the opening line while you write the first draft. It’s nearly impossible. Stories change into something wholly different at the end. You’re wasting your time trying to perfect a line at the draft stage that will invariably be different in the end. I changed my opening lines about 10 times. So wait until you’ve completed the first draft, stored the novel away for a while (getting your fresh eyes ready), then and only then will you be able to write an effective opening line.

I found an awesome article on opening lines here that has awesome examples of opening lines and why they are effective.

Some of my favorite opening lines:

“LISTEN TO ME” --- James Patterson, Witch and Wizard: The Gift -- YA

Everyone thinks it was because of the snow. ---Gayle Forman, If I Stay – YA (contemporary fiction)

I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes.—Stephanie Meyer, The Host, Science fiction (Adult)

Maybe if I had loved her less there would have been no murder – Andrew Klavan, Man and Wife, Thriller (Adult)

Streeter only saw the sign because he had to pull over and puke. – Stephen King, Full Dark No Stars; Fair Extension (story # 3) Horror, Suspense (Adult)

My opening line from my current WIP:

If the twilight zone was a place, I was there – The Chloe Chronicles and the Rebirth – YA, paranormal

What is your opening line? Are you satisfied with it? Do you have any tips on how to improve your opening lines?

Have a great day. Read a book and laugh.


  1. I love opening lines. I have a blog post of all my favorites. I really like the ones you chose too. Makes me want to run out and go read those books.

    For one of my novels, I rewrote the opening line so many times I lost count. For another, the opening line came to me one day out of the blue and then the rest of the story evolved from there (after much planning of course).

  2. My opening lines generally involve a naked man. Which is a very good way to start a lot of things, IMO.

    Since I write erotica & erotic romance, this works - and lets the reader know right away how spicy it's going to be.

    Short stories... a little different. As are blog posts.

  3. Hey, Kelly. That's what an opening line should do (at least for me. I always read the opening line (well, usually first paragraph) to know if I'll like a book.

    Beverly, umm...starting with a naked man isn't a bad thing, especially since you write erotica.

  4. I always grade a novel by the opening sentence. When I attended his reading, Alexander McCall Smith shared his favorite opening sentence. It was from "The Towers of Trebizond," by Rose MacAuley. '''Take my camel, dear,' said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass." Lots of elements!

  5. I do the same, Girl Parker. But I try not to judge to harshly. I try to get to the next paragraph at least. LOL

  6. Opening lines definitely leave an impression - good or bad. You want to write a good one, but also not obsess over it either!

  7. Hey, Janel. I agree don't stress over it. It should come organically, anyway.

  8. No matter what I am writing, blog, paper, novels, short stories, the opening line kills me.

    I have such a hard time making it flow or making sure it's not to long or not too short.

    I'm glad I found this blog. :)

  9. Thanks, Ashley. I'm glad your here too. The opening line can be a source of heartache. But don't stress too much with it. Get a good CP and brainstorm together. It'll work out.


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