How do you write great opening lines?

What makes a great opening sentence for a novel or short story?   During the year ended 2011, I read many treatises, primarily on writing fiction.  Many of them cover the same information in slightly different ways.  Most talk about the hook at the beginning.  I think I understand the concept of the hook.  What still eludes me is the selection of the right words to make a great beginning.  Since I want to write great beginnings, not just good beginnings, I have been thinking a lot about what makes a great beginning.

Poets often write vivid, emotional and sensual openings.  They, however, can use incomplete sentences, irregular line breaks and other conventions that are not considered appropriate or even acceptable for a novel or short story.

I don’t know how to go about selecting the perfect prose that makes my opening lines “great”.  I suspect there should be a certain sense of rhythm.  I also imagine that the choice of words is critical, since hard or soft words and sounds can change the mood of the writing.  And of course I still need for the opening to “hook” the reader.

Since I am a new to writing fiction, and I don’t have the answer, I am just going to practice—after all, that is why I started this blog.

I strive to improve my writing and believe that I am ready for sincere constructive critique.  Please feel free to add your suggestions, ideas and constructive comments to the question above or to the examples below.

My first attempts at writing opening lines–

1.    It was a freak accident that had sent me spiraling downhill; leaving only a sliver of my ski visible above the snow.  (Three word Wednesday)

2. She was lonesome; but not lonesome enough to go home with the mysterious stranger.

3.  She opened her eyes.  The room appeared to be covered in texture.  She knew her eyesight was gone.

4.  She was sullen because he was brutal.  Trust was gone.

5.  (Or change the punctuation)  She was sullen.  He was brutal; trust was gone.

6.  Tammy could tolerate others’ shortcomings, unless they expected her to follow suit.

7.  The smell of warm cinnamon cookies tickled his nose.  He would do whatever it took to get one.

8.  They were too early, too tiny, and although I knew I would never take them home with me, I prayed that they would survive.

9.  He was old, tired and miserable, but I knew I would miss him.

10.  He’d been my friend, my lover, my confidant; I could not go on without him.

11.  Clean, white, snow, covered in bright red blood was not the way I planned to start this day.

12.  As I bathed on the shore, the summer sun, the little cabins and the sound of children at play reminded me of the childhood I never had.


19 thoughts on “How do you write great opening lines?

  1. Great idea starting a blog to practice writing! As for first sentences everyone’s going to have a different opinion as to what makes a great novel opener, what matters more is the content o your novel. 🙂 My advice would be to take a look at a lot of different genres in whatever market you’re looking to write in – adult, YA, etc. – for some examples. Thanks for stopping by my blog and happy writing!

  2. Love the first line using the three words of 3WWW – it does have the signs of a great opener…

    Thank you for the insights into writing… I love writing, but as you mention some of the reasons above, am sticking to poetry (not anything close to good, but an attempter)

  3. My best advice to you is to stop thinking so hard about it being perfect and just write. write it as you think it and all the perfecting comes in the editing. (Yuck)
    As your other reader has said, we all think of great opening lines differently. What one thinks is, another wouldn’t agree at all so, you can spend hours worrying about it, and minutes writing one instead.
    These are all good lines (btw) and thanks for visiting my blog and such a lovely comment too.

  4. Practice makes perfect, keep doing what you are doing I am sure it will come out great. The lines are so good, I want to know what are the rest of the story 🙂

  5. Number 9 and number 11 would be my picks, although I would change your punctuation in 11 to make it a bit less choppy. I like dramatic openers but if you open tame it gives you a chance to throw in the stomach dropper later….

    Thank you for comming by my site, hope to see you again

  6. Very interesting post. I too struggle with the first line. Number 11 captured my imagination. I’ve been pummeled by editors for openings that are too “telling”. Editors love opening lines that give the reader visuals. That whole showing vs telling thing. Ugh. I read somewhere that there are three critical hook points in the first chapter of a book, the first line, the end of the first paragraph, and the end of the first printed page.

    • G. Graham, I might try doing a story with all of them. They make good prompts for the time being. We will see what develops. This was actually the second story from the list of first sentences. I may post the other one later. I am still revising it. Thank you for asking.

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