The opening line has often been called the “pitch”. It is the point at which you need to sell your story. I personally do not agree. You are not selling with the opening line.
You’re buying time with your reader.
If an opening line is compelling enough, the reader will continue on to the next line and the next and so on and so forth. To make that initial “purchase” of attention, you need to appeal to the most basic of all instincts: curiosity. Make it so that the reader HAS to continue reading to find out what you’re talking about. Here are six tips for great opening lines:
Paradoxical Statement: There’s nothing like a good paradox to make the reader go, “Wait…what?” Here is an example:
“I drove for miles and miles and went absolutely nowhere.”
This statement doesn’t seem to make sense. How can you drive for miles without going anywhere? It is these sort of statements that lead the reader to continue reading.
Unusual Reactions: Similar to a paradox, in these instances you begin the story by telling of an event, and then relating a character’s unexpected reaction to it. Example:
“That was the night we won the lottery. I cried myself to sleep.”
Because news like this would be expected to be the cause of celebration, not sorrow, a healthy dose of confusion is aroused which the reader will be compelled to dispel.
Break from Reality: In this scenario, the author begins the story with a statement that does not seem to jive with reality. Example:
“I always had a feeling Jane would murder me, and I was right.”
This statement seems to break with reality, as it appears the narrator is dead.
“A Scream in the Night”: One of the more classic approaches, this appeals to the reader by beginning the action with the very first line. Example:
John swam frantically to avoid the motorboat bearing down on him.
It would take one very disinterested reader to lay down a book immediately after reading an opening line like this.
The Quick Laugh: This approach is used in select works of writing. Essentially, the writer appeals to the reader’s “funny bone” by throwing out a quick bit of humor. Example:
She strode into the room with an attitude that demanded attention and a dress that pleaded for sympathy.
Breaking with Convention: This is a very useful technique for a satirical work. In premise, the author leads the reader to believe the book will have a “classic” beginning, only to mock a common cliché. Example:
It was a dark and stormy night. Isn’t it always?
This pokes fun at the well-known stereotype of the haunted mansion surrounded by crackling lightning.
What do you all think? Did I miss any examples? Let me know what you think makes a great opening line.
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.