How to begin?

No, I’m not changing Web sites again! I’ve barely started on this one!

This week, I thought it would be good to discuss opening lines. The days of readers picking up a book and reading through it simply because there’s nothing better to do are long gone. There are so many other forms of entertainment out there that we, as authors, really need to quickly grab the attention of the audience!

Certainly a snazzy cover or an enticing blurb is a great first step. It’s like your “store front,” as it were. It draws in your customer’s attention and invites them to step in and explore.

But if they take one step in and are repelled by what they see, they’ll step right back out again… and probably never return. As a writer, you want to avoid that.

So the opening lines to your story or book really have to catch their attention, draw them in and keep them hooked until the end. This is not the place to go into heavy world-building or long-winded explanations about what the reader will expect.

In general, what will draw the reader’s attention the most is ACTION! When you think about it, that generally says something about human nature. When you’re walking down the street, what is more likely to catch your attention – the lady with the nice coat quietly walking her poodle, or the guy in the fluorescent shirt screaming at the top of his lungs and waving around a sign? You may find more pleasant company in the woman with the poodle, but it’s going to be the guy that catches your attention first.

It probably has something to do with our “fight or flight” instinct. The screaming man bears much more of a threat than the woman and her even-tempered dog.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that you should start your book by threatening your readers! But you need to start things off with some action – especially if you have some intriguing characters to kick things off.

So here’s a challenge for you, as a writer. Come up with a sentence – a single sentence – that can serve as a great opening line. That hook that catches your reader’s attention and encourages them to read more. What is going on? Why is this happening? Who is that mysterious person talking to me?

Feel free to post your own thoughts below, or onto my Facebook page here. I’ll start with one that I thought of earlier. I’m not using this for a story right now, but you never know what it could inspire….

I walked into my office with a broken cell phone in one hand and a wet cat tucked under my left arm.

How does that catch your attention? Does it fill you with questions? Repulsion and disgust? Shock and confusion? And most importantly – does it make you want to read on to learn more? That’s what we’re trying to do with our opening sentence.

If you think you can do better, then please! Comment away! But also think about your own stories. What can you do to draw the reader in?

Until next time, keep on writing!

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