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Creative Writing: Creating a Killer Opening Line
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Grab Your Readers' Attention
Writing a story, especially a novel, is no easy task. Conceiving of a plot, developing characters and crafting an unexpected yet powerful ending all take tremendous effort and meticulous planning, yet nothing is as challenging as writing that opening sentence.
Most of us plan to share our work with a larger audience. In order to capture their interest and imagination, the development of a stand out, first sentence is crucial. The first sentence should evoke a response in the reader. It should leave the reader feeling either curious, shocked, sad, angry, eager, or compassionate. It should not leave a reader feeling indifferent or bored.
I will admit that most first sentences do not typically jump off the page, grab the reader by the throat and shout at them. But the good ones do offer a flavor of things to come and help to set the story’s tone and pace. The following are a few examples of well-crafted opening sentences:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Gregory Rabassa) from,One Hundred Years of Solitude
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. ~ Leo Tolstoy, from Lolita
This is the saddest story I’ve ever heard. ~ Ford Madox Ford, from The Good Soldier
They shoot the white girl first. ~ Toni Morrison, from Paradise
“To be born again,” said Gibreel Farishta tumbing from the heavens, “first you have to die.” ~ Salman Rushdie, from The Satanic Verses
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Great Gatsby.
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The previous lines are powerful because they leave the reader with questions. What happens next? Why is Maddox’s story to sad? What was the advice that Gatsby’s father bestowed upon him? Who’s going to die in Rushdie’s book? Or they leave the reader with an impression. Take Lolita’s opening line. Who doesn’t feel just a little curious and excited about that type of passionate writing and whose curiosity isn’t piqued just a little? It is titillating. You want to read on, just like you did as a teen when you discovered your mom’s Harlequin Romance novel or your father’s Playboy. You know that with each page turned comes the promise of an illicit encounter with the written word.
If you are working on a story, I encourage to you think about the impression that these opening lines have made on you. Then go back and review your opening line. What impression does it leave you with? If you were not the author, how would it speak to you? Would you want to read on? Why or why not? If not, how can you rework it so that it leaves the impression you are going for? How can you turn your opening sentence into the dangling carrot?
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