Following on from my blog last week on stellar story openings this week I’ve been thinking about my favourite opening lines.

If you can come up with a great opening line the reader is already hooked.

Here’s a few I love:

  • My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. (The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold).

Along with being introduced to the narrator, the use of was in this sentence immediately raises curiosity in the reader.

  • We come sweeping up the tree-lined boulevard with siren and lights and when the GPS urges us to make the next left we take it so fast that all the gear slams and sways inside the vehicle. (Breath, Tim Winton)

What’s happened, we wonder, and who are the we the narrator is referring  to? The sentence is full of energy and drama and tension.

 Some writers prefer to use short, sharp sentences:

The storm came on quickly. (The Boat, Nam Le)

Jasper Jones has come to my window. (Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey)

Both lines grab us with their direct simplicity and suggest time through the use of past or present tense.

Other writers prefer longer, more complex sentences:

On the Westgate Bridge, behind them a flat in Altona, a dead woman, a girl really, dirty hair, dyed red, pale roots, she was stabbed too many times to count, stomach, chest, back, face. (Truth, Peter Temple)

Here Temple builds the picture using short phrases to give us a sense of place and situation.

All day, the colours had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. (The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai)

Beautiful imagery that creates mood and sets the tone of the story we are about to read.

Whether these first lines are short or long, create a mood, introduce a character or a place, they all have one thing in common – they establish the voice of the narrator through word choice and sentence structure.

Sometimes we hit on an opening line instantly and stick with it. But usually it’s through the writing, revising, editing and rewriting that we strike gold. Often we don’t know the beginning of the story until we get to the end.

Reading as many first sentences as possible and studying the techniques of a wide range of writers is a great way to narrow down the sort of opening you would like for your story.

This week the 702 Book Club is discussing opening lines. You can check out and contribute to the discussion at:

What’s your favourite opening line?

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