Nothing is more critical than the first few lines of a story, since this will often influence whether or not a reader will continue with a work. And a great opening is never more important than for a non-established writer who is trying to garner an audience or the budding author who is trying to acquire an agent or publisher.
Writer’s like Dickens and Woolf Provide a Lofty Pedestal
It would be wonderful if lines like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,” were on the forefront of our thinking when we first sat down at a keyboard. The reality, however, is that this is not how it plays out for most of us. But there are ways to attract a reader without having to conjure up the catch phrase of the century.
Think Along the Lines of Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry opened A DEAD MAN’S WALK by telling the reader about a naked 200 lb. prostitute, nicknamed The Great Western, walking down the street while carrying a snapping turtle. If into westerns, who wouldn’t want to find out why this woman was involved with this seemingly inane activity? The same as a feminist would be immediately taken by Clarissa Dalloway’s opening salvo.
But What if it Requires Time to Set up the Introduction to the Story?
This is when it gets sticky. Yet not impossible to remedy. A good exercise is to write a page on a random topic–not considered previously–then locate the most significant facet of the text and place this as the lead sentence. Now rewrite the page with the narrative following this new opening. This is generally accomplished much easier than first thought, yet it might not be a bad idea to do this several times, each with a new topic. Then parse the first chapter of your novel and apply this technique to the opening.
The Opening Requires the Same Effort as the Book’s Title
On this point, it is prudent to apply the same effort for the opening as was expended to come up with the title for the work. Often, however, much more time is spent on determining the title. If this should happen to be the case (from the perspective of the amount of time spent on each), it could be suggested to reverse the process. A solid opening, whether it be a single paragraph or several, will eliminate the need to try to create one-line intro’s like “Who is John Galt?” or “They call me Ishmael,” which only happen on the rarest of occasions by even literature’s most esteemed writers.
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