Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What makes a great opening line?

What makes a great opening line?

One of the most stressed pieces of advice is make your opening line count. If not, grab them in the first paragraph. So the question is what makes a great opening line?

It seems if you can do these four things in the matter of the first sentence, you’ve got yourself a killer opening.

1) Set the tone for the book
2) Set the scene
3) Introduce the hero/heroine – and if you can at least one obstacle
4) Create a question the reader has got to get answered

So, how are you supposed to fit all this information within one sentence, or even one paragraph? Let’s see if we can discover how.

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens
I was nine when I saw my first ghost.

• The tone – You put ghost in the mix, and you should probably expect some darkness right?
• The scene – Ms. Stevens misses this one with her first line.
• Intro of hero/heroine – We may not know the character’s name, but we know she sees ghost, which is sure to be an obstacle.
• Create a question – Who is this person, and why can she/he see ghosts? What kind of life would you have if you could see ghosts?

Overall, I’d say this is a good first line. I want to read more to find out more about the character and whether the ghosts are good or bad.

Prior Bad Acts by Tami Hoag
He knew before he entered the house that day that something was very wrong.

• The tone – Successfully suspenseful wouldn’t you say?
• The scene – We are outside, about to step into a house – where something is wrong.
• Intro of hero/heroine – He is introduced, and most likely whatever is wrong will be an obstacle.
• Create a question – What is wrong, and why does the character suspect anything is wrong at all?

Overall, I’d say we have another good line. I want to read on to find out what’s wrong in the house.

Faces by Martina Cole
Mary Cadogan was lying on her bed.

• The tone - ?
• The scene – We are in a bedroom.
• Intro of hero/heroine – Mary Cadogan, but no obstacle.
• Create a question - ? Don’t see one.

Let’s give this writer a chance – She was frightened, but then she was always frightened. Frightened her husband would get nicked, and even more frightened that he wouldn’t.

• The tone – A little more clear now, I’d expect dark things are to follow.
• The scene – Again, we are in the bedroom.
• Intro of hero/heroine – She is introduced and we know for certain she is frightened. Her husband seems most likely an obstacle.
• Create a question – Why is she so frightened of her husband? If she’s so afraid, why is she just lying on the bed?

Overall, we have an okay opening. Would I read further? It’s an iffy with this one. I can pretty much guess why she’s afraid of the husband, so the next two pages would have to be extremely catchy before I’d dig into the rest of the book. Also, notice the repetition. As mention on last Friday’s post, repetition can kill but when used correctly it can present key text to the story. In my opinion this is overkill. What do you think?

Take a look at your opening line/paragraph, do you achieve these four elements, or are you missing them? To be fair, most would read at least the first full page, but if you can grab them in the first sentence and keep them hooked, you just made a sale.

Feel free to share your thoughts on these three examples, or even present your own. Are there other elements you feel should be present?

Happy Tuesday.


Joylene said...

I agree. There's nothing quite as tempting as a good first line. You can't help but read on.

Call me ishmal. *Moby Dick*

Mother died today. *The Stranger*

They shoot the white girl first. *Paradise*

Anonymous said...

Jolene, all great ones. Thanks for sharing.

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