1. JeffS65
    Offline

    JeffS65 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2009
    Messages:
    297
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    Chicagoland

    What about opening lines?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JeffS65, Dec 6, 2009.

    Just a general discussion topic.

    What do you think about opening lines for any written medium.

    I feel that the opening line has to almost be the best line in the book (or writing). While in visual media, the opening does not have to be so dynamic, if you have a reader glance at your written creation, the very first thing should make them want to go further.

    Ok, so that seems obvious but what I also wonder is what folks think constitutes a great opening line.

    For me, I find that it should make me (as a reader) want to seek an answer of sorts even if only by an implied question. It should be something the reader goes...'hmmmm, I need to know more about this'.

    Again, kind of obvious but I wanted to see what people thought of openers.
     
  2. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    First impressions matter a great deal.
     
  3. Seylesx
    Offline

    Seylesx New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Dallas Area~Which could be anywhere~
    I agree, as a constant reader I do seem to lose intrest if intrigue and excitement are not at least hinted at. Not necessarily in the first line but at least in the first few, I have always been told to leave the reader wondering....give them a reason to want to flip the page!
     
  4. Evil Flamingo
    Offline

    Evil Flamingo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2009
    Messages:
    3,298
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    San Diego, CA
    I always seem to do well by having something peculiar, or an interesting/auspicious image. Something grab the reader like a choke hold and then slowly ease down into the story, but don't make it the best line of the work. What else would we be looking forward to then?
     
  5. ManhattanMss
    Offline

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2009
    Messages:
    626
    Likes Received:
    14
    I may well be in the minority on this issue and I might even be completely alone. Probably because I tend to read "authors" a little more than "stories," per se. What I enjoy most about fiction (both short stories and novels) is having an imaginative experience with a writer I can't get enough of.

    I agree that the opening line ought to flow into the story somehow--and rather quickly. That said, I've never ever read the opening line that was so dull or offensive or vague or obscure--or even poorly written--that it kept me from reading more. And that's true of both short stories and novels.

    What I dislike more than anything is opening lines that are obviously designed as "hooks." Even those, I'd probably read beyond for a bit in order to assure myself I'm not missing a compelling story by simply expecting the rest to be dull in comparison. But I've never read the opening line that alone was responsible for my interest. Opening sentence "hooks" and "hook-writing" advice runs a very big danger, IMO, of misleading the (especially novice) writer into imagining that this is the most important sentence he'll write and that all the rest requires less attention (and, so, for a reader like me, sets the expectation of inevitable disappointment).

    That's not to say that the opener is unimportant, although I think of an "opener" as far more than the opening sentence or line. I think the opener that works best for a story is often not known to the writer when he begins and can benefit enormously from understanding the complete story he tells and writing the opening line to point there exactly (with nuance and atmosphere and portent and generally intelligent writing). For the reader's part (IMO), the beauty of a great story opener (first sentence or even the title, for that matter) is that he doesn't even recognize how significant it is till the story actually materializes.

    When I buy a novel, I read a few pagraphs from somewhere in the middle of the book (never the opener) to determine the ambience of the story, the way it's delivered, and whether it rouses some curiosity about the character or narrator in the portion I read. when I start to read the book, there are several qualities that make it compelling to me, and which will prompt me to abandon it altogether if I don't detect them. One is whether I find the character (or narrator) plausibly interesting. Another is whether the writing itself persuades me that the author has the wherewithall to maintain the tone, the tension, and excitement for the duration. And, finally, if I detect any confusion about the "kind" of story that's about to unfold (thematic qualities), I know right away that I'm likely to hang it up and move on at some point.

    To me, the opening line that's designed as a hook has less potential of exciting me than a discussion about a plotline idea (both of which, in film, are far more important to me as predictors of whether or not I'll fall asleep during the opening credits).

    So, that's my lone view from the sidelines.:)
     
    1 person likes this.
  6. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    You got me thinking.

    I like the imagery of the girl standing on the breakwater in The French Lieutenant's Woman. Something visual like that always gets my interest and draws me into the story. (I know the book didn't start immediately with that scene, but you get what I mean.)

    Looking through a few of my things, I seem to have a 'far shot, zoom in' or 'closeup, zoom out' mentality. The writing I'm doing at the moment I pictured a camera from above following a steamship, then circling and homing in on a girl, dressed in mourning, pacing the deck. I started another short story picturing a woman's worried face, and then pulling back to describe the crowds jostling her.

    I've never started with dialogue and sometimes don't want to carry on reading novels that start in this way unless the writing looks amazing.
     
  7. arron89
    Offline

    arron89 Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2008
    Messages:
    2,460
    Likes Received:
    91
    Location:
    Auckland
    I guess to me style is the most important thing in an opening sentence. They have the whole novel to develop plot, characters, thematic concerns, so it isn't a huge prblem if I'm not thrown into those in the first couple of pages even. But if the style of that first sentence is uninteresting/unreadable/uninspired, then it will turn me off immediately. I get the feeling too that this is the reason I don't really get into popular crime or fantasy novels; I look at the first lines, and they seem so cookie-cutter, like they're identical to so many of the other books on the shelves, while with literary fiction, even in the first line its fairly easy to distinguish one author from another, and even in some cases identify them just by the line.
     
  8. Kas
    Offline

    Kas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2009
    Messages:
    567
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    The ***hole of the world
    Ditto Cog's post.

    But nothing is worse than an opening line overdone. I think trying to cram one's own distinctive "style," or worse, a cumbersome list of descriptive elements, into the very first line, is a common problem. When I read stuff posted on writing sites, I expect the first line to be the worst. When I read those in published material, I expect nothing. Rarely have I read a published first line that stood out significantly in either a positive or negative way.

    I don't put a lot of thought into the opener until I finish a piece. It's the one part of a project, especially a novel, most apt to change by the end. For now, I opt for simplicity. I dive straight into the scene and don't overthink it.

    Here's my current opener for a recent project:
    For now, it works for me. I'm not wasting any time. I get straight to the story I want to tell.

    As a reader, I identify most with Molly's post, especially this comment:
    I never judge a book by the first page, but I suspect we are a small minority, Molly. I know I would have missed out on a lot of great reads, had I done so.
     
  9. Writers_Block
    Offline

    Writers_Block Member

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2009
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    America, VA
    I think the opening line, or actually, the opening paragraph is ONE of the most important sections in the book. That's what is supposed to set the stage, feel, and everything else that goes along with the story. In my opinion, if you mess this up dreadfully, then you've done a great deal of damage to the rest of the book.
     
  10. love2listen
    Offline

    love2listen Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2009
    Messages:
    74
    Likes Received:
    0
    at my writing conference one thing they impressed hard upon the audience is that the first sentence is key. its the first thing an agent, publisher, and reader reads of you. you have to hook them. the first page is crucial but particularly the opening line+++++-
     
  11. thewordsmith
    Offline

    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    I'm not sure the first line/sentence must be the best. After all, if you agonize over your first line, craft a killer opener and then slack off on the remainder of the ms, you've pretty much built a dung heap covered in frosting!

    The first line has got to be a really good one, yes. And you definitely want to grab your readers' interest ... make them read that opener and ask themselves, What? How? Why? But, as with fishing, it's just the bait. If you don't have a good line and adequate strength to back it up, you've got nothing.

    I find myself playing with my openers - agonizing over them, really - after I have completed the ms. I sometimes will rearrange much of my opening chapter to find just the right place to begin and the right way to begin. But that doesn't mean the opening line has to be the best. It just has to have enough 'spice' to make the reader hungry for the rest of the banquet.

    Okay, sorry for the lame metaphors. I'm outta here.
     
  12. talieseen
    Offline

    talieseen Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2009
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    0
    No Manhattan, I'm the same as you. I have to date read every book by Michael Crichton, Jack McDevitt, Sir Guy Gavriel Kay, Robert Jordan, and Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series (Harry Dresden is next on my list of his stories). I tend to find one author and seem to make it a marathon of trying to read as much of their stuff as fast as I can. But, to the point, -yes-, the first impression of a story is the key of the reader. Why I say key is that, if that first line or two doesn't work then the reader will merely lock themselves out of your novel (or your writing entirely!) and walk away. My wife believes that dialogue is the definitive beginning of a novel, always. I have to disagree in that I think that the first line will have to nearly always be a descriptive text (though dialogue will grab me as well if it is well written).
     
  13. ManhattanMss
    Offline

    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2009
    Messages:
    626
    Likes Received:
    14
    I'm glad to know I'm in good company.:)

    As to thewordsmith's excellent point, I look at it this way: There are two things about a story that are really important--one is the opener and the other is the rest.
     
  14. writewizard
    Offline

    writewizard Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2009
    Messages:
    840
    Likes Received:
    7
    A hook is deadly important. If you don't have it, a reader will put away the book and never look at it in. I agree with Cog: first impressions are important, almost deadly important.
     
  15. SurrealOdyssey
    Offline

    SurrealOdyssey Member

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2009
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    South Australia
    ^This.
     
  16. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    I tend to like to use single sentences to start a book. Why? I want something that is direct, to the point and grabs your attention to what is happening. However, in the novel I'm rewriting, I break that rule and start with a paragraph...
     
  17. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    The first sentence doesn't have to be super-charged with action and drama, just something that doesn't stand on it's own. What I mean by not standing on its own, is that the sentence lacks some key information about its object or subject. Like those conversation openers that make people go "Who are you talking about?" or "Hey, start from the beginning?", because an obviously vital piece of information is missing. It makes the reader instinctively search for the missing part, in order to make sense of what they just read. I think it's hard-wired into the human brain - we see something that doesn't quite fit or make sense, and it triggers a deeply rooted curiousity.
     
  18. bluebell80
    Offline

    bluebell80 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2009
    Messages:
    636
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    Vermont
    I think the first line and the first paragraph are very important for any type of written story.It is not only the the hook that gets set in the readers mouth and reels them into the story, it sets the tone for the entire reading experience.

    I may be a different type of person from what I've seen in the comments, but I like to explore all different sorts of books, not just ones from the same authors I've already read, though I do like to read other books from favorite authors. I enjoy spending a couple hours in a bookstore reading the first page or two of many,many books before I make my selection. And for me, if a book doesn't grab me and make me want to read it in the first line, first paragraph, and first page, then I don't buy it. That's how important the opening of the book is, at least for me.

    I hate the saying, "don't judge a book by it's cover," because the cover art, the synopsis and the title also dictate if I even pick the book up to read the first page. LIke the my current reading selection, Patient Zero, has an exciting cover with bloody fingers tearing through a page, and the synopsis was pretty humorous something about having to kill the same terrorist twice in the same week... I read the first page and decided it was something I would enjoy. The writing is contemporary, and very guyish. The style is a little different too, with a switch between first person POV for the MC and third person pov for the enemy chapters. But I like it.

    Opening lines, opening paragraphs, and opening pages are probably the most important part of the book in terms of writing it and for me, reading it.
     
  19. Jaybrownuk
    Offline

    Jaybrownuk Member

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2009
    Messages:
    54
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    UK
    I feel an opening line has to set a scene, something that makes me instantly picture where we are and what's around.
     
  20. essential life
    Offline

    essential life Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2009
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    0
    One thing I recommend is not starting with a long paragraph. I find it's hard to get into a story when I'm faced with a large, rambling body of text.
     
  21. Fedora
    Offline

    Fedora Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2009
    Messages:
    119
    Likes Received:
    24
    This is very important. If you're going to use a hook, don't make it too obvious.
     
  22. Midnight_Adventurer
    Offline

    Midnight_Adventurer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2010
    Messages:
    270
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    Wow how coincidental!
    Just last week in my Novel class at school (I'm studying Professional Writing & Editing) we were discussing what constitutes as a good opening. Here's the list we came up with;
    GREAT NOVEL OPENING QUALITIES/DEVICES
    *Immediacy- you're right there
    *Mystery- want to know what's going on
    *Suspense- to find out what happens
    *Confrontation- drama is interesting
    *Tension- makes you want to read on, excitement
    *Foreshadowing- anticipating a promise
    *Shock value- speaks for itself
    *Honesty- overcoming odds 'underdog'
    *Humour- makes us laugh and connect
    *Style of writing! - A distinctive voice characterisation, the reader 'calibrates' to the author's style.
    Not all of them are there because it was a big list, but I hope this might help or inspire people with their novel openings :)
     

Share This Page