Opening lines are to fiction what chocolate chips are to cookies – you’ve gotta have ’em. There’s a lot of good ones out there, but the truly great opening lines have three things in common:
- They plant the reader’s feet on the story’s ground by providing an initial sense of place, time, and character.
- They tease the imagination by providing just enough hints or clues to the plot of the story to make the reader ask questions.
- They establish the tone of the story – humorous, dark, sarcastic, narrative, etc.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice
“‘Live life balls out,’ Katie Kramer told herself every night, and even though she didn’t own a pair, she hoped the mantra would keep the nightmares away. It never did.” – Jill Shalvis, Instant Attraction
“I have to. I’ve been fighting it all night long. I’m going to lose. My battle is as futile as a woman feeling the first pangs of labour and deciding it’s an inconvenient time to give birth. Nature wins out. It always does.” – Kelley Armstrong, Bitten
“I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what I had in the back of my truck.” – Jeanine Frost, Halfway to the Grave
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
Regardless of length or genre, the opening line of a story is a powerful tool, both for writers trying to captivate readers, and for readers trying to choose their next story. Skip the blurb on the back, and check out the opening line instead – it should make you want another cookie.
Do you have a favourite opening line from a book, story or movie? I’d love to hear it…