So how do I write the perfect opening line? I know it has to be great. I know it has to grab the reader and pique their interest from the get go, but I haven’t been able to locate a magic formula.
To be honest, I don’t think there is one. What I’ve observed, is great opening lines come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common. They get your attention or leave you wanting to know more.
Strategies for writing the perfect opening line:
Get an emotional response from your reader. Use strong words that elicit surprise, laughter, anger, shock….
- “They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.” Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
- “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Iain Banks, The Crow Road
Leave the reader wanting to know more…
- I have lived more than a thousand years. Ann Bashares, My Name is Memory
- It was a bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell, 1984
- Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife Shuyu. Ha Jin, Waiting“
- They shoot the white girls first.” Toni Morrison, Paradise
Establish a unique voice….
- If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parent’s were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Use the first sentence to tell us about the story….
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice
- As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. Kafka, The Metamorphosis
Use a philosophical truth….
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
- No comet blazed when I was born. Denis Healy, The Time of My Life
A dramatic statement….
- You better never not tell nobody but God. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
The next time you read a good book, check out the opening line. What makes it great? What about it caught your attention and made you want to read on? What was the strategy the author used to hook you?