Lately I've been working on opening lines and how to hook the reader in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence of my latest story.
I have to fight the tendency to labor endlessly over those first few paragraphs There's always that compulsion to make those opening lines just perfect. Instinctively, as a reader-turned-writer, I know the importance of a good beginning, so I sweat over mine. And, because I've worked so hard on those first several sentences, they can be the hardest to let go of if my gut instinct is telling me they need to be cut.
Revising openings is not easy, so to warm up, find a novel you enjoyed and reread its opening. Does the first sentence grab your attention? If so, put it down and pick up another book. Great beginnings are hard to come by, so it shouldn't take you long to find a novel without one.
Once you've found a good book with a less-than-great beginning, rewrite that beginning. You might do it by cutting a few paragraphs until you come to a line that makes you feel something makes you ask a question or titillates you, or you might move the last sentence of the first paragraph into top spot. Sometimes it can be that easy. The first sentence might even simply need a few words cut out to make it shorter, punchier.
After you rewrite a few others beginnings and study some openings that caught your attention, read your beginning with that critical eye you've acquired. Would it make a reader ask a compelling question? Would it make her feel something? How many sentences into the book does she have to be in order to become captivated and need to read on?
Whether you cut a sentence or a chapter or more, know that you're doing it for your own good and the good of your book. You want the first words that an editor reads to grab her attention and make her know your book is, indeed, purchase-worthy.
Here's a great opening line from Nocturne's Aftershock by Debra Cowan:
Cass Hollister's problems began the day she died.
Now doesn't that make you want to read the story to find out what is going on? It does me. So what are some of your favorite opening lines from books you love, or even from your own work?
PS: A big *Thank You* goes out to my friend Christina Phillips for giving me the "I Love Your Blog" award!