Coming up with a first opening line to anything, a first date, or, a first interview, or, a first hello to an old friend you haven’t seen in decades, or, that first pretty line of your first wondrous novel that will set you off into the world of publication and success. Its shakily frightening. A bothersome task that can make the finest of us anxious for days on end.
To it, there are many approaches.
You can start off with a line of dialogue. An ambiguous statement or vague question that leads the reader needing to learn more. An italicized note, letter, that can very easily make the reader fall in love with the voice of your main character. Or simply, jot down a well worded narrative first person, that takes the reader into the mindset of whom-ever-your-main-character is.
But, like all things, the best way to choose your approach is to step back, like an old man in a rocker, and think, what is the purpose, theme, message, goal of your unique and wonderful novel.
Are you looking for something richer thicker bulkier and more fitting to the lyrical literary genre?
Are you trying to figure out the opener to a mystery novel?
To a Young adult fantasy book.
I’m going to keep this short terse and sweet because the best openers I’ve ever read were just that–direct and to the point–allowing the motive and plot and character goals to be established within the first couple of pages.
In Fantasy: Examples of this include The Wizard of Oz; we see Dorothy in her grey little home with her cute doggy friend Todo, she has a cyclone shelter, a cyclone happens, she is in a new world and told to follow the yellow brick road.
Boom. Classic story. All done in the first four pages.
Alice and Wonderland; we have Alice bored with a book, sees a rabbit, follows it into the hole, putting her in a new world with new problems all within, again, the first two of three pages.
The Maze Runner: Boy in a metal box, boy not know where he is, boy appears in ‘The Glade’ where other ohs his age tell and show and guide him around, elaborating on the predicament they are all in.
We even see this in the Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Boy in a plane, boy crashes, boy put into new world.
The key ingredients to all of these are simple.
Each establish, though in different ways and orders, these classical parts.
1.) A mention of them either in, or in the middle of leaving there normal common everyday life of anything relatable relatable ranging from boredom to sadness and a need to change for the better. *for your novel, think, what does my character want, if happiness, I advise making them start off in a contrast environment of sadness. Or, if want to be a hero, make them, again, start off in a contrasty environment where they are completely the opposite of that, like, say, being underrated, unappreciated, or nobodies who wish to be known and seen. Resemblant to someone like Harry Potter, a boy who is not loved to a boy who is accepted and famous. Thus the common trope of lonely orphan to beloved celebrity hero.
2.) What this does is creates, first, a relatable character. Then, following that relatable lazy and bored character, into the new and scary fantasy realm, it allows the reader to have something to compare the bizarre and magical world to. Allows the magical and bizarre world to be relatable making the reader, be just as scared and worried and miss home as much as Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz.
Relatable. It’s what makes a fantasy world believable and honest and lovely. Starting a character off in a common world is the best way to do this.
Fiction: Following the same structure this is also done in fiction stories such as mystery, crime novels, or any sort of romance dual perspective quick read plotty books.
Why not make the first five or so pages about a criminal in the middle of a unlawful act. Perhaps a murder or a robbery. Cut. Then start the second chapter off cutting to a police officer, or a new station responding to the crime or event by speaking to fellow officers or interviewing witnesses or broadcasting the information on a television where your characters can discuss the issue.
Now, you may be thinking this has been done so often its unreadable. But really, many successful books start off just this way. It establishes a incident.(first chapter) A response. (second chapter) And if your good, by the end of that chapter after all of the talking about and debate and arguing and discussion about what to do next…you come to a solution of how to respond. Thus getting you to chapter three, where you see them committing and going through with there plan.
I find, switching settings, switching character types from scene to scene prevents repetitiveness and fresh readable scenes. Your end goal in the response it to get multiple responses to the first chapter incident, talk it up, blow it up, get the reader thinking of the options and routes this mystery can go, thus, leaving them uncertain of which way it will, making them continue on to find out.
But to make your story stand out, consider originality here, step back and only look at the steps and ingredients to it to allow you to come up with your own new and fresh story. At the basis or this incident and response technique…and this is where reading often is helpful…think what has been done in the genre thus far. Of how most often writers start chapter 2 as a ‘cops sipping coffee when the report of a murder come in and they begin plotting solutions. Then think, simply, what if I had a detective, instead of in the office with coffee, out on a walk with his twin daughters when he gets the news of the case…and made that is your hero character who denies doing it, plus it allows the reader to see and become attached to the characters life by showing them in a different environment than the norm. Boom, likable protagonist to follow and admire.
My advise for who to read and which authors do these, twisty, different, perspective beginnings best, is to read–James Patterson. Nora Roberts. Sydney Shelden–and if your cheap or poor in the bank account department (like myself) just pick the book up and read the first few pages in your local bookstore on a sample on your kindle. Its a stupidly easy thing to do, you don’t have to buy the whole book.
Though, then again, openers like the ones they write, you might just end up waddling over to the register and cracking open that crusty wallet of yours, hooked.
And do keep reading. You’ll learn more than you ever will from me, by doing so.
Read outside your comfort zone. Read under a tree. Read on a canoe when its 72 degrees.
But, as always, stay true to the flavor and theme and type of book YOU are trying to write. Don’t try to mimic the ways you see. Just read and file away what you absorb. So, when it comes to you sitting down, coffee to your right, silence on your left shoulder, the way YOUR book should begin, will be the way YOUR book will.
Lastly, don’t overthink that first line of yours. Just speak from an honest and true and genuine place worth going to. Worth being in.
And if you speak from that place, people will come, sit, spend time in your little world of fanciful creativity.
*Keep the pen dancing. Keep a dancing pen