November 3, 2013

The opening line

Dear M,

The opening lines of a book must catch a reader's attention.

In any book, the first line is the most important one. That one line decides whether the reader wishes to read on, or toss the book away. It must be gripping, it must be simple, it must make the reader wonder. It must make the reader go on to the next line, and then to the next. Writing the opening line is an art in itself.

Apparently many authors spend more time on their opening lines than on the rest of their novel. So we can guess it is not an easy task. One of the opening lines I remember from a long time ago is,
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. 
Yes, the famous line from Rebecca.

And from more recent times, from One Hundred Years of Solitude:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. 

There is enough stuff in it to make us ask one hundred questions.

If you Google for "opening lines of novels", you can find several more famous opening lines and even tips on how to write a good first line. (I hope the opening line of this blog caught your attention!)

Here is a list of some of the famous first lines from books.

These lines look easy, effortless and quickly written, without any hardwork behind them. The authors alone know the hours and effort and number of crumpled sheets of paper that went behind each.

Sometimes these opening lines come to us at the start of our writing, when we project the story we're about to write. We know how it is going to begin. We do not know yet if it is a great opening line. It looks good and we go from there. At other times, the opening line we write is lousy. We don't waste time on it at that instant. We just concentrate on finishing the first draft. Once we connect the dots, we could come back. We know now how the story progresses, we know how the theme emerges. We know what we're saying.

The opening line could contain everything about the story in a few words. Or it could just be specific to the opening scene.

I am an invisible man.
See? It is everything the story is about. And there is enough to invoke curiosity, and make the reader wonder, to make the reader read on.

We, the authors, alone know what the opening line of our story can be. There are no rules we can follow or formulae we can implement to arrive at the perfect one. We have to keep writing many, discarding many, until we arrive at one that could possibly catch a third person's eye.


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  1. Congratulations! I have nominated you for the Liebster award.
    Check out the post here. :)