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Monday, November 15, 2010

CRAFT: How good is your opening line? (part 1)

No, I'm not talking about a pick up line for a date but the opening line of your latest work in progress.

When I realise my WIP has a sucky start, and I get stuck trying to create one, I like to head for my bookshelves and explore. Analysing what other authors have written can sometimes trigger my own creativeness or give me one of those infamous "lightbulb" moments.

But what makes a good opening line? The way I see it you need to ask yourself these three things...
  1. Do the words chosen by the author catch your attention?
  2. Does the sentence raise a heap of questions you want answered?
  3. Is there any implied conflict in the information given?
If you're like me you need some practical examples so let's look at an opening sentence from one of my favourite authors.

Julie Stanford took a deep breath before shoving aside the curtain to walk into the massage room where Nathan was laid out in all his glorious, naked splendor.

Do the words chosen by the author catch your attention?
What words jumped out at you as your read this? For me they were - deep breath, shoving, massage, glorious naked splendor. Why? I'm going to make a list.
  • deep breath - this is sensory and implies nervousness or bracing oneself for something
  • shoving - a strong verb
  • massage - my curiousity is pique
  • glorious naked splendor - adjective, adjective, noun
Does the sentence raise a heap of questions you want answered? Absolutely.
  • Why is Julie Stanford feeling nervous or feel the need to steel herself?
  • Who is Nathan to Julie?
  • Do they share a past history?
  • Why is Nathan naked and not covered with a towel or pants?
  • What sort of massage parlor is this? 
These are enough to draw me on.

Is there any implied conflict in the information given?
You betcha. Just look at the questions I just asked. There's a possible shared history between Julie and Nathan, or something that makes her nervous or apprehensive about this meeting.
Despite her trepidation she's attracted to Nathan when she describes him as being "...in all his glorious, naked splendor." If he'd been butt ugly or repulsive there's no way she'd have used these words to describe that.

So, this meets my criteria for a good opening sentence. It hooks me into wanting to read more.

We'll continue looking at more examples of good opening lines next post.


  1. lol...well it made me curious as I haven't read that one. Add it to 'the list'!!!!
    A really interesting post Kylie =}

  2. hi Kylie! I think Lisa Gardner used one in an article that went something like: "Jenna knew today would be a bad day when she reached into the cookie jar for the gun and it wasn't there."

    Always like that :-D

  3. Maya Banks is hot, Cath, but many of her books are keepers on my shelf. Love them!

    I had such a laugh at this line, Paula. It's a corker! What a great image and impression to open a book!!! :-) Thanks for dropping in.

  4. Great post Kylie - it is so true. Opening lines need to hook the reader immediately and you have provided a great analysis. Might ask to use it in the H2H next year in our March issue on Great Beginnings.

  5. Great opening lines Kylie!
    For me it's that I want the h/h together asap, while still keeping it interesting and the stakes high