By: Chris Winkle
The perfect opening line embodies the magic of
authorial voice, blended with
heartfelt experience, stirred with striking prose, shaken with a mysterious
essence beyond our comprehension, then poured carefully over ice.
Just kidding. Effective opening lines perform a handful of functions that are surprisingly straightforward. Get to know these functions, and you’ll start recognizing them
in famous first lines yourself. Then, you’re only a step away
from creating amazing opening lines for your own stories.
1. Suggesting Conflict
You probably already know that conflict keeps the reader entertained, and it’s the main ingredient in an effective story hook. So it should be no surprise that most famous first lines have conflict.
“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” — The Trial by Franz Kafka
While lines like the one above throw the reader right into a conflict, that can make it difficult for writers to set up the story. It’s more common for strong first lines to foreshadow problems on their way.
“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.” — The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Many famous lines also declare that a conflict has already occurred. The narrator might even describe their own death. Readers will expect the writer to tell them more about this event or at least show its repercussions. As fancy as it sounds, it’s just another way of foreshadowing.
“The morning after he killed Eugene Shapiro, Andre Deschenes woke early.” — Undertow by Elizabeth Bear
For a subtler touch, the writer might leave overt foreshadowing
out but use
symbolism to create an ominous mood.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984 by George Orwell
If your opening line mentions a problem of some kind, it probably has conflict.
2. Raising Questions. . .
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