by Ashley Lister
Conventional wisdom tells us that we never get a second chance to make a first impression. Nowhere is this more true than in the opening line of a piece of fiction. Consequently, when Jane Austen writes, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”, we are immediately hooked and we want read on. There is humour in this line. There is intrigue. We don’t know if this statement is made in seriousness or in jest. But we do know we have to read on.
Or take Dickens:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
This is another of those lines that makes us want to read on. After this catalogue of dualities, a list of binary opposites that suggest good and bad and light and dark and heaven and hell, readers know there’s going to be conflict, and they settle back and wait for the ride.
A good opening line should do at least four things.
- It should arouse interest in your reader.
- It should relate to the rest of the narrative.
- It should introduce key themes of the story that’s about to unfold.
- It should make your reader want to read on.
And, as a short exercise, crafting a strong opening line can often be a useful way of kick-starting the imagination. The following are three opening lines I’d be keen to pursue.
For Jack, it was overwhelming all-consuming unbridled love at first sight. For Jill, the emotional connection was far more intense.
“Anyone can talk to the dead,” he grinned. “But Betty’s different. Betty knows how to get the dead to give up their darkest secrets.”
Once upon a time there were three women who all lusted after Fat Tony. This is the story of how they each got what they wanted.
As always, I’d love to see your opening lines in the comments box below.