Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We'll Start At The Very Beginning

"It is the truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Did I get your attention? Then I'll begin.

They say the opening is the most important. It's the one that grabs the reader. The one that makes us want to spend 300+ pages with the hero/heroine. It's also the one that can have us staring at the blank page tearing our hair out.

But how do you get that opening just right? How do you go from an so-so opening to a great one? You know the one I'm talking about, right? The one that makes agents excited enough to read on. That makes them see the potential in you/your MS baby and request your full and then offer representation. The opening that - once published - makes readers buy your book and set up those fan pages dedicated to great quotes.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. Back to reality.

His Dark Materials author Phillip Pullman was asked how he wrote great books. His reply was that it's easy; all you have to do is write a brilliant first page. And then a brilliant second page. And then a brilliant third page... And well, you get the idea.

My first line trick? Get the darn first draft out of the way. Once the whole thing is done, I can then go back to focus on the first line during edits. It may be that killer opening line is a sentence or paragraph further down. Time and re-reading (and amazing CP's) can help pull it to the surface.

 I wish I had a magic formula to share. If they're are any hard and fast rules then I'm still looking, but there are a few other things that can help:

Choose a few books off your shelf. Read the first lines. See what grabbed you as a reader.

You can also check out these links:

Stina Lindenblatt has a few posts on awesome first lines here.

So over to you. Do you have a favourite opening of a novel? How do you work on yours to make it great?


  1. I feel like I'm still fairly new at the creative writing thing, but I've taught academic writing for over ten years now, and one thing I've learned is that you can't write a great introduction until you know where you're going.

    I think, like you suggest, it's important to get at least one good draft in (maybe two or three) so that you know what details are essential for the opening scene: what should the mood be, what conflicts do you want to tease, what do readers need to know right away about the MC.

  2. "There is one mirror in my house." While that line doesn't give the full flavor of the book, it is from Divergent by Veronica Roth, a book that is on my list of top books this year. That line intrigued me. I also love the first line of A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker. (Sorry. I don't have the book handy.)

    In my stories, I try to hook people into by at least the first couple of lines or the first paragraph.

  3. I haven't yet reached the point where I'm worried about the lines! I'm still worrying about the story and the characters and how to make them as great as possible. but I guess it's probably the same process: just make it all the best you can.

  4. Excellent post, Lindsay. Right now it's just hard to start writing, but I need to remember that where I start is not where the book starts.


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