In my previous post I made a list of my favourite opening lines and paragraphs to novels. While I have said in the past that starting a novel is the easy bit and finishing a novel the most tricky, opening a novel in such a way that a reader is gripped from the beginning can be difficult too. When you’re excited about a new idea it can be difficult to slow down and think about the best way to write.
My favourite of the opening lines in my previous post is The Secret History by Donna Tartt, straight away we know that someone has died, that others are in trouble and that they know where his body is. It is quite unusual for the reader to know who has died and who was involved from the beginning, so this one opening line flips the usual set up for a murder mystery on its head. What this line shows is that the first line is powerful. The Great Gatsby is very different, it opens more slowly and creates intrigue about the other character, who is slowly revealed as Gatsby. This opening style is slower and more watchful. It gives a glimpse of the book to come and suggests a watchfulness, that the reader is going to be given insight into a world they wouldn’t otherwise get to view.
Modern, commercial fiction loves a quick and quirky opening. Something different to instantly draw a reader in. I think the best time to tackle a good opening line is on a redraft. The first time you write your opening line you will be full of your new idea and writing quickly to get the idea on paper. When redrafting you can make sure that you intrigue your reader and include a twist from the beginning. Prologues often work well for this, describing a cliff hanger in advance or talking about a death or funeral without saying whose death your describing, talking about a place which will recur throughout your novel and focusing on a mood or emotion that will encompass either the first or final trip to this place.
Openings are important not only for the readers you hope will one day read your novel, but for the potential agent who will get there first. They have hundreds of manuscripts to get through and it’s so important to grab their attention from the start.
For further information on opening lines I highly recommend The Writers & Artists guide to Novels. I’ve talked about this book and the wider series it sits within, it’s a great way to prepare for writing and for supporting your writing throughout the different stages.
I hope this helps and would love to know your advice for writing a great opening line.