Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Importance of an Opening Line

We all know the importance of the first three paragraphs to an agent, an editor, and a reader—hook ‘em right away, keep ‘em hooked. Excellent advice, to be sure. But what about the opening line? If all you could present was the opening sentence of your work in progress, would one of these three important people want to keep reading?

Let’s take a classic example.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
--C. Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Interesting. “When?” we ask. “Why?” and “Where?” Always good to engender questions—it makes the reader want to continue, want to discover the answers.

Now a contemporary example:

“About last night,” I began awkwardly.
--J. Lanyon, Perfect Day

“Ooo,” you say. “What about last night? Sounds juicy.” And on you go, seeking the answer.

One more—from a modern day thriller:

When the first man woke up that morning, he wasn’t thinking about killing anyone.
--J. Sandford, Easy Prey

Yep, I’m going to keep reading.

But you can take it to ridiculous extremes. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest seeks out “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” The contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is I London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
--E.G. Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford

Certainly as purple as prose can get. Interest drowned in verbosity after the em dash.

What’s your opening line? Does it make the reader want to journey on, keep reading? Can it be stronger?
If you like, leave your opening line in the comments section.

Once upon a misspent youth, Whitley read and wrote stories under the covers at night. Years later, inventing characters and putting them through their paces in interesting ways turned out to be addictive, and along the way Whitley discovered that two heroes is twice as nice. A pot of coffee and a creating an adventure featuring a couple of guys makes for a perfect day. Stop by www.whitleygray.com and feed your fix for heat between the sheets with erotica and M/M romance.