You Had Me At Hello 2.0
In a previous Wordy article, You Had Me at Hello, the important topic of opening lines was discussed. The first sentence of any novel needs to hook readers. Lay those first stones with words that immediately grab readers and lead them to continue reading. Strive for a sentence or two that make readers and agents go, huh!
Think, Call me Ishmael. Wow, this stunner is the opening line in Herman Melville's, Moby-Dick. Most would think, who the heck is Ishmael and what role does he play in this story? Three simple words are both haunting and intriguing. I can almost hear Ishmael saying these words - his tone, a slight gravel in his voice, even an accent. All the sentences following this incredible one-liner created a classic. I’m not convinced this first sentence would have the same impact with a different character name. Call me Mark, just doesn’t cut it.
One of my absolute favorite openers is from Dodie Smith’s, I Capture the Castle — I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. Holy smokes — who writes while sitting in the kitchen sink? What is this person writing? Why is this person sitting there as opposed to sitting at a desk or table? The author is inviting readers to sit with the narrator in the kitchen sink while they write. It’s sort of cozy and weird, but oh, so alluring.
While most of us will not pump out a classic we can still endeavor to produce a quality book that is both notable and one-of-a-kind.
Okay, we know your opener needs to kill it, but you can’t stop there. The next sentences and paragraphs need to slay too. Get it done. Work consciously to compose a noteworthy first line, subsequent paragraphs, and a page-turning first chapter.
It’s vital that authors begin their story in the right place and in the right way, with words that captivate and action that enthralls. At one time or another, we’ve all begun reading a book that began in a boring way. Perhaps with too much exposition or confusion. Sometimes readers will hang in there and give the novel a chance and sometimes that works out to be a good decision because the narrative gets better. Other times those types of openings fall so flat readers want to throw the book across the room and kick themselves for doling out their hard-earned bucks on trash. I’ve certainly been there. In fact, there are books I’ve pushed through for a few chapters, but in the end, I gave up.
Creating a novel is hard work. It’s not for wimps. Pull on your big girl or boy pants and give your first pages everything you’ve got. Strive to compile an unforgettable story as if you're Ed Sheeran collaborating with Elton John and Bernie Taupin to write lyrics and music on a new song that sets the world on fire. Okay, maybe that’s overkill, but you get the point
Agents sitting around a table or exchanging emails about potential novels to represent may not remember the name of your book unless it’s a stand-out, beguiling title, but they will remember an appealing and interesting story beginning.
You must keep the momentum going because that will alert agents to the promise and possibility of publication. Energy in motion will engage readers as well.
Below is a list of 16 ways to start a story. These ideas are a kick-off to build upon. Individual authors will need to tweak and expand them accordingly. These are not meant to serve as the opening line. They are writing prompts too spark ideas. Break out your vivid imagination and descriptive mad skills and let your fingers do the typing or the writing.
1. The story begins in action with a prison break.
2. A car accelerates and lands in a body of water.
3. A dysfunctional family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner.
4. Two female friends seeking romance attend a speed-dating session.
5. The narrator reveals a stunning secret.
6. Trick-or-treaters get separated on an unfamiliar dead-end street.
7. Teens partying on a lake find human body parts.
8. Someone wakes in the middle of the night and sees an unknown spirit.
9. A twelve-year-old boy finds a drawer with strange otherworldly objects.
10. Two students stumble upon a teacher drinking alcohol.
11. The school’s worst bully hands another student a slam book.
12. Beachgoers find a puzzling sea creature that washed ashore.
13. Police pull your protagonist over.
14. Three friends use a Ouija board and summon a crazy demon.
15. Boy Scouts sitting around a campfire play Truth or Dare.
16. The female protagonist is invited to read an Edgar Allen Poe poem at a masquerade Halloween party.
Words matter, so choose them carefully and create a memorable opener.