Why your first sentence should be the best and how to craft a killer opening line

opening line

Everyone knows the best way to start a novel or a story is with a killer opening line. You need something that hooks the reader and immediately sets whatever mood you’re trying to set. It should be your best sentence. In fact, what follows doesn’t really matter that much because you’ve done such a good job getting the reader interested that nothing could possibly let them down.

Why a bad opening line can ruin your entire body of work

A bad opening line will lead to instant rejection. No editor is going to want to publish a story that doesn’t open with something profound or impactful. No reader will sift through 300 pages of words if the first sentence doesn’t zoom right out of the gates and smack them in the face and chest so hard they never forget it. If the first sentence isn’t great, the rest of your work sucks by default. 

Tips for creating the best opening line ever

So you have to create an awesome opening line, but you don’t want to spend all day doing it. After all, you have thousands of other words to write too. It’s definitely not easy, but here are some secret tricks you can use to help you craft the best opening line ever:

  • Use really profound and writerly words to show the reader that you know how to write.
  • Start with the ending to really blow their minds.
  • Incorporate familiar phrases that make the reader really see and feel what you are writing so they can relate.
  • Open with a contradiction or big twist that makes the reader say, “Oh shit, I’m in for a wild ride!”
  • Be so vague that the reader has no idea what’s going on and therefore has to read more.
  • Make it so complex that the reader will instantly know your plot is going to be super enthralling and deep.
  • One word: profanity.

Some examples of great opening lines you can use yourself

Think you have it now? Here are some examples of killer opening lines I’ve been noodling with that will capture your audience and lead to writerly fame and fortune. Once you have a line like one of these, the rest of the book will pretty much write itself!

  1. He turned on his heel and started walking away, his hand clenched so tight on his throbbing member that his knuckles turned white.

2. A frothy cloud of dust motes swarmed around her head like a translucent halo as she prayed that everything would turn out okay even though she was sure it wouldn’t, but then she forgot all about praying and realized it was time to dust.

3. He awoke from a dream in a relieved panic; what follows in the next 312 pages is what he dreamed about that caused such a panic in his bones and made him so relieved to finally awaken from such a panic-stricken dream.

4. I don’t really know how to tell this story, but I’m going to tell it anyway because I think I actually do know how to tell it, but first I need to warn you that you’re in for one wild ride.

5. The way it began was the way it ended with the middle coming somewhere closer to the end than the beginning.

6. Fuck.

Feel free to borrow any of these for your next great novel or short story. I really don’t mind. You don’t even have to give me credit. Just be sure to let me know so I can buy a copy.

Seriously, stop worrying so damn much about your opening line

Too often, writers will struggle to find the right opening line before they begin their story or novel. They’ll complain, “I know what my story is going to be about, but I don’t know how to start it.” Here’s an idea: just start it. You can always go back and change the beginning later.

But here’s another thing to think about: your first line doesn’t need to be some standalone piece of brilliance. Look at all the “greatest” opening lines in the history of literature. None of them would be worth their weight in shit if what followed wasn’t equally great or even better. Do you really think “Call me Ishmael” is a great opening line by itself? Think it took a genius mind to write “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”? And don’t even get me started on that “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan” and his bowl of lather nonsense. These first lines are nothing without the rest of the work. We’ve made them into great opening lines because of the genius that follows.

So stop letting the opening sentence get in the way of your writing. If your entire work is great, your first line is also going to be great. Or at least good enough.

Have a great opening line you want to share? Post it in the comments.

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15 thoughts on “Why your first sentence should be the best and how to craft a killer opening line

  1. Brilliant. I love this.

    I like the opening,

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”

    It could be a science fiction novel. Or horror. Or fantasy. Or… I think anyone could substitute God with the name of their protagonist, I’m sure God doesn’t sue. Also the word Word could be substituted with a different one. Dream, say. Could that work?

    In the beginning was the Dream, and the Dream was with Ivan Honeybutt, and the Dream was Ivan Honeybutt, and the Dream was made flesh, and dwelt among us. Fuck!

    Now it starting to sound like an erotic comedy novel. Maybe Ivan should be substituted with Claire?

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