It has been this writer’s experience, that when it comes to novels, fiction, or books of any stripe or subject-matter, the first sentence, the opening lines can be one of the most difficult yet natural things in world. There is a certain, unquantifiable importance so many writers place upon the Opening Lines. The writer’s capacity for the opening lines can perfectly establish the tone of the story, encapsulate it succinctly, or just as easily kill a story before it’s even begun. For even the best, most proliferate writers, coming up and constructing those opening lines can be either the easiest, most natural thing in the world or the most frustrating, teeth-pulling of exercises. Xlibris Publishing offers Tips and Examples of Opening Lines.
While there is a large variety of opening lines, in terms of style and content, they can generally divided into two camps of Purpose, either:
To Establish Tone and Themes
Charles H. Spurgeon, prominent Baptist preacher and theology writer, once said, “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began”. While he is likely referring to life and one’s relationship to the Divine, we can also apply Charles’ words to writing, in particular to opening lines. The opening can establish a central and recurring concept that will dominate the story and characters- for better or worse.
In Pride & Prejudice Jane Austen uses her opening line to introduce a mindset held by the society within which the story takes place. Using an opening line in conjunction with In Media Res can be a preview or foreshadowing as to how key events later in the story will unfold or be presented.
A good opening line should give the reader some idea of what they can expect throughout the rest of your story.
To Establish the Beginning of a Journey
The other purpose the opening line can serve is to establish the beginning of a journey, a starting point. The opening line can make clear to the reader where a story begins as to the state of the setting or the state of the main character. The opening line can thus be used to mark where the story will eventually return or to juxtapose against where the journey ends.
In both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the opening line refers to people and places that represent home, the place to which the hobbit protagonists hope to return after their incredible journeys. A story’s capacity to return from whence it began can be joyous, tragic, or even bittersweet, depending on the kind of story you wish to tell.
Great Examples of Opening Lines
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
- Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
- The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
- The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”
- Blood Rites (The Dresden Files), Jim Butcher
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By Ian Smith