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Opening lines are an art form unto themselves.

They must introduce a storys


tone, the authors wit, the plot itself, and, most importantly, a reason why this
story is worth the readers time. Boring opening lines arent something an author
can afford. And yet theyre harder to avoid than you might think.
The problem is that opening lines must also be entirely functional. Where do we
begin our stories? At the beginning. And where do most stories begin? Rather
ordinarily, with a character who has his feet on the ground and doesnt know
that ground is about to be swept out from under him. We have to open in a
comparative normal world. We have to make setting, character, and stakes clear
to readers. In other words, we have to be straightforward, right?
Sometimes. But your second paragraph will give you plenty of time for all that.
Your first concern in writing an opening line is hooking readers. And the only way
to hook them is to make them curious.
Lets take a look at some standard types of boring opening lines and what we
can do to flip them around into something fascinating.
The Weather Line
Boring Opening Line: It was a bright and sunny day.
Problem: Snorezilla. Granted, this sounds like a normal world just waiting to get
taken down by a tragedy. But for the time being theres nothing interesting
about it. Perfection is never interesting. At least Edward Bulwer-Lyttons It was
a dark and stormy night gave us some interesting atmosphere.
Better Opening Line: It was a bright and sunny day, just the kind of day I was
supposed to die in.
The Setting Line
Boring Opening Line: The grocery store was busy today.
Problem: This line does have a slight advantage over the previous one, since it
offers a teensy hint that maybe something is out of kilter in this world. Why,
Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 32: Boring Opening Lines
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after all, is the grocery stores busyness more notable on this day than any other
day? Still, with a dull opener like that, I wouldn't be at all surprised to read on
and discover there isnt anything notable about this day.
Better Opening Line: The grocery store was awfully busy for a ghost town.
The Character Line
Boring Opening Line: Jenna had just turned thirteen.
Problem: Good for Jenna. Bad for readers. Kids turn thirteen all the time. Why is
Jenna so special? Without a hint of why Jenna or her thirteenth year are so
important, readers arent going to be very impressed.
Better Opening Line: Jenna had just turned thirteen the day the planet
exploded.
The General Statement Line
Boring Opening Line: Around here, strawberries dont ripen until late spring.
Problem: The only thing this opening line is making me want is a ripe
strawberry. Its certainly not making me want to read on. Readers either already
know when strawberries are ripe, or they dont care. What they care about is
having their curiosity piqued, and common facts (or, worse, clichs) just arent
very piquant.
Better Opening Line: Around here, strawberries dont ripen until late springbut
the Magic Wars had changed all that.
The Dialogue Line
Boring Opening Line: Hi, Steve. You got a second?
Problem: This is a bad way to open a fictional conversation period. As an
opening, a line like this is even more abysmal. We can only hope the caller has
some scintillating reason to rob Steve of his second, but, honestly, this reader is
a long way from convinced.
Better Opening Line: Hi, Steve. Just wanted to tell you I killed your mother-in-
law.
The Key to Non-Boring Opening Lines
Are you seeing the common factor in all the boring lines and the common factor
in all the better lines? The boring lines fail to invite readers deeper in the
story world. The improved lines, on the other hand, all create a jarring note that
makes readers stop, think What?, and read on to figure out whats happening.
The opening line should be a puzzle piece that makes readers need to figure out
the larger picture of which its a part. The opening line needs to make them
curious. Why? Because curious readers are putty in your hands.
The Exception to the Rule
Now that youre all pumped to go out and write a killer opening line, let me back
you up a step by saying that maybe you dont have to. Not all first lines are
scintillating or curiosity-inducing in themselves. John was a good dad may be a
perfectly acceptable opening line if its followed by a killer second line: At least
thats what all his imaginary kids said.
Sometimes youre going to use an on-the-nose first line to set up the punch in
your second line. But you cant afford to wait much longer than that to offer
readers the hook. If they get past that first paragraph without needing to do a
double take, they may decide to put your book down and go after those fresh
strawberries instead.
About the Author: K.M. Weiland is
the internationally published author of
the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your
Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as
well as the western A Man Called
Outlaw, the medieval epic Behold the
Dawn, and the epic fantasy
Dreamlander. When shes not making
things up, shes busy mentoring other
authors. She makes her home in
western Nebraska.
www.kmweiland.com
www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com