Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Power of Opening Sentences

That first sentence can put your readers on high alert (in a positive - or negative - way).

It doesn't have to split the heavens, but it should be enough to pique a reader's interest and cause him or her to want to continue reading. If the first sentence, and especially that first paragraph, is flat, lifeless, dull, and boring, then your readers are going to expect more of the same. And they'll usually find what they're looking for. Even if the rest of the chapter or story picks up steam, those opening lines have made their first impression, for good or for ill.

At the novel writing workshop I'm attending this summer, we talked about some opening lines that are now considered classics. For example, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice begins with: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Or George Orwell's 1984: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.


The "trick" is to introduce a unique idea or startling phrase or concept without being cutesy or gimmicky. Something ordinary, but slightly off. Something that says, "Read me to find out the answer!"

And since this is my blog, allow me to share my first paragraph to a crime/detective story I'm writing. Tell me what you think: Sirens screamed past the abandoned warehouse where I sat with close to fifty grand spilling out of my canvas bag. It wasn’t much as far as these types of jobs go, but it just might be enough to get me killed.

A quick google search can produce a number of sites with a "best of" list. Some great first sentences are here and a discussion of opening paragraphs is hereOf course, during this 4th of July week, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, "We the people..." as a great opening line! What are some of your favorite attention grabbing, high alert story openers?
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