On Writing: The Importance of Your Opening Line
Updated: Sep 28
The first item up for comment during a developmental edit or manuscript evaluation is the opening line of the novel. Why? The first line of a novel must establish point of view and tone, which allows readers to immerse themselves in the writing right away. The first line also benefits from a hook to persuade readers to continue reading.
Here are some of my faves and why I chose them: "I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination." In The Left Hand of Darkness, LeGuin establishes the first-person exploratory point of view using a report-like tone and centers the reader in another world. "Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love." In The Gargoyle, Davidson establishes the outlook of the wry narrator and creates a strong hook by evoking cute aggression. "We slept in what had once been the gymnasium." In The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood establishes the point of view and sets the reader up for a changed but familiar world. "The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl." Erin Morgenstern masters the trifecta of opening lines in The Night Circus: third-person point of view, a tone of curiosity, a hook.
But writing that killer opening line isn't easy, even for seasoned writers. That opening line is your reader's first impression of the story. If it falls flat, the potential reader may just put that novel back on the shelf.
When crafting your opening line, consider how to get the reader into a place of immediacy and understanding right away. Can you work in the point of view and tone? Give an interesting fact? Make a compelling argument tied to your theme?
There are as many tips to constructing great opening lines as there are not-so-great openers. Writer's Digest documents a few methods to craft compelling opening lines.
But my favorite method is trying a few things to see what works best for the story being told. Do you have a favorite opening line?