Here’s some thoughts on a common theme for me, the need to start stories by creating momentum right from the off.
The first rule of opening lines is that they should possess most of the individual elements that make up the story. An opening paragraph should have a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot, some hint of characterisation and a sense of where we are.
Also, your story should begin when something is happening, not before, because that is more likely to grab the reader‘s interest. And there should be something intriguing to keep them reading.
If you feel compelled to begin with dialogue, keep in mind that you’re thrusting your readers into a story in which it’s easy to lose them early on so keep the dialogue to a minimum and make sure the reader has the information they need to understand its context.
Sometimes a story evolves so significantly during the writing that an opening line no longer applies when you have finished. The only way to know this is to reconsider the opening sentence once the final draft is complete. And if you need to change it, change it!
Among my favourite openings are:
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” — William Gibson, Neuromancer – creates a powerful sense of place
“Justice? — You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” — William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own – creates a strong voice
“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” — Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups – intriguing!
And here is how I started The Railway Man: The Spur was ominously quiet when, shortly after midnight, the police patrol car edged its way across the estate’s main quadrangle, its tyres crunching on broken glass. After it had slowed to a halt in the middle of the square, two uniformed police officers got out and stood in silence as they surveyed the scene. Loathe to leave the security of their vehicle, they allowed their gaze to roam along the darkened windows in the blocks of maisonettes that surrounded them. Still not speaking, they glanced at each other, each disturbed by the oppressive silence in the clammy summer night air. Everyone knew The Spur’s reputation. Everyone knew what it could do to the unwary.
You can find out how the novel unfolds at
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