I love a good opening line, it can be intriguing, beautifully written, scary or thought provoking. Or boring!
Thanks to my friend and writer Maureen Flynn for this idea. She posted on Facebook asking a few writer friends to put up the first line of the first three chapters of their WIP or ‘work in progress’. It really made me think about the first line of my novel, so I decided to do some research and look back through some of the books I’ve read this year and re-read some of their opening lines.
The first line in my list below is by acclaimed Australian novelist Richard Flanagan. His book The Narrow Road to the Deep North was a hard read (for me) but beautifully written – as you can see by his opening line. He has just been shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, one of the worlds most important literary awards.
♦Scroll down below for a collection of hints I’ve found to help me create a great first line♦
Please let me know your favourite from this list, or the favourite first line from a book you have read this year.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: ‘I wore a black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished and shiny: clothes that normally would make me feel comfortable, as if I were in a stolen uniform, or pretending to be an adult.’
The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness: ‘What actually woke him was the unearthly sound itself – a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to move, never to melt – but he, being who he was, assumed it was his bladder.’
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: ‘Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.’
Here are some tips I’ve found on creating a great first line – there are many more tips out there – but I found this information useful so I thought I would share! The examples I have used below are from the books above.
A powerful and interesting line can immediately lure a reader and hint at the heart of the novel. It can:
- Establish tone
- Hint at conflict or theme
- Lure with the promise of some reward
- Cause an instant emotional reaction, connection to character, and/or fascination with scene
- Hook the reader
Do you, as a writer want to:
- Enchant the reader with beautiful poetic prose? Example: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
- Grasp the readers attention with dialogue – a statement or truth from the point of view of the protagonist. You can immediately reveal the voice of your main character and allow the reader to connect with them. Example: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
- Start in the action – begin with a tense situation. Example: The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn
- Surprise the reader – give them something they weren’t expecting. A beautiful poignant first line in a horror book, or as in The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness, who does several things wonderfully well in his opening line. It was both poetic and a surprise and it showed a little about his slightly odd protagonist. It also alluded to something perhaps magical and life changing about to happen – All in one sentence! Wow!
- Do you want hook the reader with something mysterious? Example: Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior by PJ Tierney.
- Or intriguing? Example: The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane or Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near.
- Or elude to characters wound, their darkest weakness that drives them to do the things they do, or their inner demons – as in My Heart’s Choir Sings by Maureen Flynn.
My first line: I had a think about my first line – I’m trying not to over think it considering whatever I think sounds fantastic today might not sound so great next week, or next month, and I will change it as have done about 100 times already but – I found my great opening line sitting right there on page 1, about 4 paragraphs down. What was it doing there – this wonderful sentence?
It just got promoted.
What is your favourite opening line?
Thanks to good old Google for some of this information specifically this article in the Huffington Post.