The Opening Line: How Do You Make It Memorable?

OO is for Opening Line

The Opening Line—probably the most important sentence you will write. Unlike the writers of the past, the modern writer in this fast-paced world needs to grab the reader’s attention as quickly as possible or risk losing the reader altogether.

What makes a good opening line?

Hmm…

In all the books I’ve read on the craft of writing, I don’t recall reading about the formula to writing a memorable opening line. If you know it, please do tell.

After analyzing some of my favorite opening lines, there doesn’t seem to be a  common thread that runs through each of them. They are all different. Some are long (A Tale of Two Cities) and some are surprisingly short (A Christmas Carol). What is it about these opening lines that make them so memorable?

My favorite opening lines contained at least one of the following:

• Imagery
• Contrast
• Intrigue
• Unique voice
• Compelling Mental Picture
• Sarcasm
• Shock
• Fear
• Dialogue

Imagery

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Contrast

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Intrigue

“Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.” The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Unique Voice

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Compelling Mental Picture

“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Shock

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Sarcasm

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Fear

“Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Dialogue

And this one comes from our very own Sarah M. Cradit:

“‘All I’m saying is, Deliverance was based on a true story.’” The Storm and the Darkness by Sarah M. Cradit

 

What do you think makes a good opening line? What is your favorite opening line?

Here is a link to more famous opening lines from Wikiquote.

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.

 

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13 thoughts on “The Opening Line: How Do You Make It Memorable?”

  1. I LOVE opening lines. Often times in my own writing the opening line is my most favorite and in many ways it is the most crucial. I like short and sweet and random enough for people to say – what’s she writing about? and read more. Of your examples – A Christmas carol is by far my fav.

  2. I tend to write anything that goes just to get the opening line on the page and get rid of that intimidating blank screen. Then afterwards I’ll go back and completely change it.

  3. I read a really interesting article mainly directed at genre fiction suggesting that the opening line should refer to an exciting event that took place before the start of the story. It’s quite an interesting concept and some of those example opening lines are really powerful. Here’s the article in case you want to check it out:
    http://writershelpingwriters.net/2014/01/good-heavens-another-post-opening-lines/?utm_source=feedly&utm_reader=feedly&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-heavens-another-post-opening-lines

  4. I personally enjoy quippy first lines with a lot of voice or a hint of mystery. Usually the best openers lead to a story question. Though if it’s too vague it can be confusing. I love crafting first lines, but I am admittedly terrible at opening chapters. I usually end up cutting them and starting at a later point.

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