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Creative Writing: Creating a Killer Opening Line

Updated on February 19, 2016
Jaynie2000 profile image

Jaynie is a published author. She is an award winning poet & has completed a full novel and an anthology.

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.

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?

If you're looking for inspiration, resources, opportunities and writing exercises that fuel your passion for writing and spark your creativity, visit The Elusive Muse writing blog by clicking on the link below. Subscribe to this blog for regular updates that will satisfy the hungry writer within.

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    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 6 years ago

      Thanks Skylar.

    • Skylar Spring profile image

      Skylar Spring 6 years ago from New York

      Very useful. Great advice.

    • SweetSusan1435 profile image

      SweetSusan1435 6 years ago from Colorado

      I think this is excellent. At the same time, I lost interest about half way through the article because it was just too much to read. It really helps me when writers get to the point. I'm just sayin'.

    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 7 years ago

      Good luck with that, Don. I know you have the drive and dedication to succeed and I wish you the best of luck.

    • Don Simkovich profile image

      Don Simkovich 7 years ago from Pasadena, CA

      I'm learning to isolate, or have a list as guideline, elements that are important to stories. A strong opening is certainly one of them. This is great for making writers think about the power of an opening sentence. I have a short story (about 12,000 words) that I'm re-doing and rewriting the opening sentence and the first paragraph made everything more fluid for the body of work to follow.

    • Jaynie2000 profile image

      Jaynie2000 7 years ago

      True. Hopefully the tips in my writing blog will help others to craft story elements that are thoroughly enjoyable. Have a great day.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 7 years ago from Guwahati, India

      You are right in your lookout where you said “Most of us plan to share our work with a larger audience”. The writing will bring fruitful result only when it is liked by mass people.