We all know the opening line is the most important sentence of the book, followed by the first paragraph. It must hook the reader, make him want to know more. It has to be relevant to the story, not just an intriguing opening. The opening ought to show a change, usually unwelcome, in the current situation.
The hook also tells the reader the kind of story to expect and shows the style and pace of the book. If your style is terse and fast-moving, the hook should reflect it. If you have a soft, poetic style, then the hook should show it.
How do you feel about first lines? What do you look for? What do you think about these?
1. Call me Ishmael.
2. Scarlet O'hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
3. Nathan Rubin died because he got brave.
What are some of your favorites?
For me, the best opening lines show something that implies conflict or a problem. They’re lean and uncluttered. It’s too tempting to cram a whole setup into that first line—I’ve read many where the writer succumbed. I have too, but I try to go back and include only what (I hope) will intrigue the reader, only what will compel her to read on.
I admit to a prejudice against opening with dialogue. It seems to float out there like a helium balloon. Who said it? Why should I care? I really want to know who’s speaking and have some hint of mood or situation. But if the beginning is dialogue, it needs to go somewhere fast. Cut any meaningless stuff like “How are you?” or “What did you do today?” How about “I have AIDS.” It certainly indicates a problem, but I wouldn’t stop there, because alone that could be anything from an inspirational memoir, a love story, or the opening of a murder mystery.
Instead, maybe, “I have AIDS—the question is, where did I get it?” Nigel’s breath came in short, hard gasps as he waited for his wife’s answer. Skip the opening stuff that tells the reader Nigel got home later than usual, and Selena, his beautiful wife of four years, met him at the door.
I’d start with Nigel and his breathing. Nigel’s breath came in short, hard gasps. “I have AIDS . . .” He waited for his wife’s answer.
Those opening lines are from
1. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
2. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
3. Die Trying, Lee Child