STARTING WRITING IS LIKE CASTING A HOOK INTO A RIVER.
The opening line is probably the single most important sentence you are going to write in your piece. Over the years writers have spent large chunks of their creative time getting the ‘right’ start, the one that will draw readers in and make them move on to the second sentence, then the third, until they are hooked. Then the writer can relax a bit and reel the readers in at a more leisurely pace.
Have a look at these four examples. You don’t need to know where they came from . . . just read them for now.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
‘All children, except one, grow.’
‘Call me Ishmael.’
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness, it was an epoch of belief, it was an epoch of incredulity, it was a season of light, it was a season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair . . .’
Note that they are all declarative, but they also all set questions running in the reader’s mind: who is this single man with a good fortune?; which child does not grow?; why should we call you Ishmael?; when is this book set, and where would all these opposites apply at the same time?
These four sentences, from books considered to be classics, all set up the story with an opening that carries an echo of the content of the rest of the book and an implied question that creates a desire in the reader to move on and find out more. All four carry enough resonance that you can probably have a guess at the books they came from, more than 100 years after they were written.
Not bad for a single sentence.
One trick I’ve practised is to take an opening sentence from another writer’s book and construct a possible plot from it. You too could try using other authors’ opening sentences as a springboard to unlocking your own creations.
Just remember to hook your reader first; otherwise it’ll just be another one that got away.
– William Meikle
William Meikle’s website can be found via www.williammeikle.com