Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Writing Opening Lines

It's so hard to craft good opening lines. (Most of the time.) Sometimes they just come out of the ether. Those lines are miracles. But most of the time the ether fails us and the lines take some work to get right.

I can obsess about an opening line for weeks or months, so it meant a lot to me when I had a compliment paid to me this week on the Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing Blog about my opening for Deviants. That, and a discussion Molly, Sinead and I had on the weekend got me thinking about openings and opening lines again....

The aforementioned blog has some great thoughts about openings and here are some of mine:

A good opening line should be intriguing or catchy in some way.

It should raise questions that make the reader want to keep reading.

It should be easy to read--that is, tricky phrasing the reader shouldn't have to stumble over. ;-)

Along that same line... it should be well written without being overwritten. In unpublished contests, I find opening lines often fit into one of two groups: dull or overwritten. You don't need to, (and shouldn't try to), fit six metaphors and every big word you know into the opening paragraph. Another overwriting problem can come out of trying so hard to describe a complicated visual image that the reader has to stop and think about it so for so long it stops making sense.

A good opening should set the mood and/or tone for the novel. That is:  a funny book should have a funny opening, a scary book should have a scary opening etc.

There are other opening line "rules" one hears like, don't start with setting, don't start with a character waking up, don't start with a dream, don't start in a car... But like anything with writing you can break those rules if you do it well and/or do the other things mentioned above. (I started Deviants with setting...)

Great opening lines stick in your head. They're memorable. They make you want to keep reading.

Here's one of my favorite lines from the past year.

"This was not how Tara Jean Sweet imagined her engagement. Perched on the edge of her eighty-nine-year-old fiance's wheelchair wearing a skirt so short there was a good chance the photographer was getting a shot of her uterus.  -- Can't Buy Me Love, by Molly O'Keefe

Share your favorite(s) in the comments! :)


Eileen said...

I loved Molly's opening line, too!

I find that often the first list in the first thing that comes to me when I'm working on a book idea. THey tend to jump into my head fully formed.

Maureen McGowan said...

That happens to me sometimes too, Eileen. But my last two ms's not so much. Struggled.

Anonymous said...

Molly's is a great opening line. And something I don't give enough thought to. Must think more about creating a great opening line.

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