~Your first line sells the book. Your last line sells the next book. ~
MICKEY SPILLANE, AUTHOR OF KISS ME DEADLY
Many of the sources I read to write this blog post discussed how writing the First Words on the page is always the hardest you’ll write. This is partly because it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the importance of your beginning.
Some say there is a ‘secret formula’ used by bestselling authors. Others say that you will return to this opening line repeatedly as you polish your manuscript.
If there is a secret formula, it is all in how you construct the opening line. It has acted as a ‘hook’ to catch the readers’ attention and leave them wanting more. This literary technique is all about grabbing the readers’ attention and nothing more.
One way to build your knowledge of great opening lines is to read your favorite authors and pay attention to how the story opens.
I was obsessed with Erich Segal’s book, ‘Love Story,’ when I was twelve or thirteen. He drew me in with the line,
“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?”
So remember, that opening line has got to draw your reader in. But that isn’t its only purpose, but it also needs to present the body of work.
Here are some great lines for you to consider:
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Book One, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
“In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
The Go-Between by LP Hartley
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (How many of us only remember the first clause?)
Peter Pan by JM Barrie
“All children, except one, grow up.”
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
“All this happened, more or less.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but I would LOVE to have one of my novels’ opening lines show up on this list someday. But the main point of this conversation isn’t becoming famous – it’s all about making the reader interested in reading the rest of your book.