BOOM! How was that? Or does BAMB work better? What about, “Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you!” Did any to these grab your attention? Were they eye-catching or annoying? These are just examples of the importance of the opening line in your book…or even a blog post such as this.
Now, for blog posts you have maybe five seconds to grab your visitors attention. And if you don’t do it that quickly they click away to the next website. You probably have the same amount of time to convince a reader to buy your book. Sure, maybe they’ve read the back cover for a quick book synopsis but then they may crack open the cover to see how your book starts (how many of us have done the same?)
If you haven’t reached out and grabbed your perspective reader’s attention with a great first line then they aren’t likely to reach for their wallet!
Look At These Examples
“It was a dark and stormy night”
Do you know who started this classic? It was the English author, Edward Bulwer-Lytton from his book, “Paul Clifford”, published in 1830. But it’s memorable and used still today, especially to create a scary or dangerous night when we’re telling ghost stories around a campfire.
“Once upon a time”
Yes, I know, this one is obvious, overused, and intended for children. But, you recognize it, right? It had it’s origins in the oral narratives of the 1600’s and it ends with the traditional line, “and they all lived happily ever after.” Any one of us would have gone down in history if we were the originator though, right?
“It was the best of times”
In “A Tale Of Two Cities”, Charles Dickens speaks to events leading up to the French Revolution. And because of that we are led into the next part of the opening line, “it was the worst of times”. Very classic and certainly evokes the right kind of imagery for this story.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
And with that opening line in “Pride and Prejudice”, Jane Austen grabs us our interest and imagination and hurtles us into her story. Who knew that humor existed like this in 1813.
“Time stood still…but not the gun clearing it’s holster”
Does this opening line grab you and make you want to know if someone is about to get shot? And that time stands still when you see your death is imminent? OK, that’s a line from my first Western novel, “Colson’s Law”. But the intent is that, while it may not go down in the annals of literary greats, its still intended to grab the reader’s interest and make them want to read more.
How Do You Craft A Great Opening Line?
Write it once…twice…thrice…or however many times you need to. And it needs to be relevant to your book’s theme. It needs to tell the reader fairly quickly what the book is about and/or provide some insight about your main character, possibly how they think or how they view life. These are examples only but this one line needs to grab your reader and tell them that reading the entire book is worth their time…and money!
Think of it as your tag line or your “elevator speech”. You have a few seconds to tell what your story is about by using words as pictures. You want to appeal to the reader’s emotions, to what they’re wanting to read. You want them to read your first sentence and think to themselves, “This looks really good”.
Take another look at the opening lines from the books referenced above. These were likely not easy to come up with and required a lot of revision and tweaking to give the book the opening feel the author was shooting for (OK, maybe not “once upon a time”). But study them and you begin to see that these short lines opened great novels.
Don’t Make It All Downhill From There
The importance of a great opening line cannot be ignored and you can’t fill in the pages to your punch line or climax with “just words”. Everything between the opening line and the end must be there for a reason and not be filling up space.
As you write your first draft and then begin editing, each sentence after your opening one must belong…it must make sense and continue to build on the anticipation of the one before it.
This may sound difficult – how do you keep up the pace of a great opening line? But really, it’s not that difficult. You just continue to write naturally and with passion, if that is appropriate to your book (I’m assuming you’re writing a fiction). This becomes relatively easy to maintain if you have a good outline that you have taken the time to create. This will help your book flow and allow you to build from one sentence to the next.
Take The Time To Sound “Grreeaaaattt!”
OK, I took that line from the Tony the Tiger cereal box. But that’s the intent of this post, to have you stop and take the time to write that great opening, that one line that hooks your readers into your story right from the get-go. Because what happens next? They then read the next line, maybe the next few paragraphs, and then go, “yup, gotta have it”.
Your opening is your introduction to your story…and first impressions do make a difference!