Drawing Them In: Advice on Creating Opening Lines

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Whenever I walk into a Barnes and Noble two things happen:
1. I breathe a little easier because being surrounded by books is like therapy for me.
2. After that euphoric experience my senses become immediately overloaded with all the possibilities. Which book should I choose? Do I go with an old reliable author or do I try to find someone new? Do I have enough money to take that chance?
What ends up happening is that I browse through the shelves and when a title or a cover catches my eye, I pick up the book and read the first few lines. If it doesn’t grab my attention, I put the book down and move on.

The first lines of a novel are so important and so many of the great ones have been taken. So how do we draw the reader in? How do we make him/her take interest in what we have to say and want to read more? Here is my two cents worth:

1. Start in the middle.
Many people struggle with writing the first paragraph of an essay, let alone a novel. One technique that has helped many is to start a story somewhere in the middle, then craft a beginning that logically and interestingly brings the reader to that point. There is no rule that says you must begin at the beginning and if you are staring at line after scratched out line of false beginnings, perhaps moving along to a different part of the story will help you figure out a way to draw in the reader.

2. Start in the middle.
This time I mean start your story in the middle of the actual story. Draw the reader in by indicating that this has been going on awhile. It may just make them wonder what has been happening up to this point. Of course, you will need to give them that information somewhere down the line or else you will upset your reader and they will curse your name.

3. Start with dialogue.
Most human beings are voyeuristic by nature and starting a story with a conversation between two characters might just be the ticket to causing the reader to read on.

4. Pose a question.
But it will need to be a good one; one that makes the reader think. You will also need to eventually answer the question. Be sure you know the answer the question you pose in the first couple of lines or you could disappoint the reader later on. This technique will probably work best if you are using a first person narrator in your story.

5. Give us a character to connect with.
If in the first couple of sentences we meet someone that we can identify with on some level, we are more likely to want to continue reading to see what happens to them. How does one do this in a mere three or four lines? That is a fantastic question and one that I am not sure I can answer in this space.

The first lines of a novel or story are the worm on the hook so to speak. Have fun with them. Seek out those books and stories you love most and read over and over again and take a look at the first couple of lines. What drew you in? What caused you to want to continue to read this story? Many of the best beginnings have already been written, but that doesn’t mean there cannot be many more added to that list.

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About M. Jaynes

A female educator with anger-management issues, M. Jaynes is causing change in the world by inspiring (some may say forcing) young minds to think for themselves and question everything.

Comments

  1. Eric Bahle says:

    Number five’s a good one. I get annoyed with a lot of “prelogue-y” descriptions of towns and landscapes and what not. I think you need that character asap.

  2. I do the same thing in a book store. I wander through the aisles, picking out one book after another, only reading the first page.