How do you draw someone into you story? How do you make it so that the first line puts a hook in your reader and pulls them headlong into the story?
Let’s start with some of my favorite opening lines:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984
I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
The man who killed me wore a tattoo of Santa Claus on his chest. — Sean Taylor, Sin and Error Pinning in the short story collection, Show Me A Hero
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
I had my recurring dream last night. –Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower
The strange children of the Manmensvitzender family did not go to school so we only knew they had moved into their old house on the hill because Bobby had watched them move in with their strange assortment of rocking chairs and goats. Mary Rickert– Bread and Bombs in the short story collection, Wastelands
There are countless other lines that I could include in here because opening lines are usually what I remember from a book or short story that I’ve read. Poetry also has its share of amazing first lines, but I want to focus on fiction in this post.
Now, what makes a line memorable? What puts the hook into you and makes you want to read further? There are several ways to create a hook, so let’s simplify and divide what hooks do into different categories.
1. Grabbing detail.
Something is striking in the opening sentence (like there being 13 hours in Orwell’s 1984) and that is what draws you in and makes you want to read more. The world seems familiar until it is turned on its head.
You start in the middle of something, a fight, a crash, something dramatic happening. The reader is sucked in and wants to know what’s happening and why.
Something is amiss. Something strange or unexplained is brought up that makes the reader wonder. Usually this ties in to a main plot point or at least an important aspect of the story.
There needs to be an element of wonder and intrigue to the opening line. There need to be details that spark your reader’s imagination. There isn’t a single way to do that. Just like a writer’s imagination can go in a million directions, a reader’s imagination will grab onto a thousands of details for an interesting story. The main detail is to have something that can grab a reader’s attention.
Consider if a story started with:
The red flowers were blooming in the field.
Curious? Want to read more? Eh… maybe not. But…
The Sange bloomed a sharp red on the battle field as it sucked up the blood of the fallen men.
Now? Well, there’s more detail, more things to be curious about. We’ve also put together the idea that this is not Earth because of these strange flowers. All in one sentence.
Consider the opening line a promise to the reader. That line sets the tone for the story, what do you want to promise and how are you going to fulfill that promise?
Now, that’s not a complete list and not all opening lines will fall into one of these categories but in general those are all things that can make an opening line engaging. What are some of your favorite opening lines and why?