One of the hardest things I’ve found about writing a book or a short story or, I guess, any type of fiction is coming up with that perfect opening line. It’s much like introducing yourself at a party to someone new. Those who know me are probably laughing at this point. The fact is; I’m not one to go up to a stranger and introduce myself. Have you ever been in a classroom when the teacher/instructor gets the bright idea to go around the room and have everyone stand and introduce themselves to the group? Well that’s my own personal hell. I’m not really so much shy as I am antisocial. I cringe at the thought of introducing myself to a total stranger. When I launched my Facebook Page I was a hot mess worrying about what people might think of me, which is strange when one of the first things I might say is, “I don’t care about what people think of me.” I guess I’m an enigma.
I hope you don’t mind if I make a U-turn and get back to my subject which is opening lines. If you look at the great authors of our time opening lines come in all shapes and sizes;
- Call me Ishmael. – Herman Melville, Moby Dick
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
- Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
- You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. – Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Mother died today. – Albert Camus, The Stranger (trans. Stuart Gilbert)
- It was a pleasure to burn. – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
One thing you’ll notice about the examples I’ve used above is that you won’t see too many of the great authors using dialogue in the first line of a book. Here are a couple of examples of first lines using dialogue;
- “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. – Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond
- “When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.”- Katherine Dunn, Geek Love
Dialogue works as an opening line which only gives the writer more choices when trying to come up with just the right line. Well, whoever said writing was easy?
I could go on and on but you get the picture. The opening line can be almost any length, it can be narration or dialogue, and it doesn’t really matter what it says. There is one thing the opening line has to do. It has to hook the reader. If this one line was that imaginary introduction at the party I opened with it would have to make that person interested enough in me to hang around for a while. How many times have you picked up a book or started a short story only to put the book back on the shelf or close the browser. That first line has to peak the reader’s interest. It has to pull the curiosity right out of the reader. There are times I’ll spend hours trying to come up with the perfect opening line only to change it later. I think the best thing to do is write the story and worry about the opening line later. Or do as I do which is write the story and worry about the first line the entire time you’re writing.
It all boils down to the same old writing advice you always hear. Write the best story you can. Let’s face it; if the story stinks the best opening line in the world will not save it. So, I’ll continue to write and pray on a daily basis to the writing gods above in hopes my story doesn’t stink. With that said if my story does stink, it’s not my fault, it’s theirs.
- The Toolbox: The Art of the First Page (paperlanternlit.wordpress.com)
- Memorable First Lines – Weekly Writing Challenge (teaandtrivia.wordpress.com)