Take a look at some of your favorite books. How do they start? What is the opening sentence/hook? What made you decide to keep on reading it?
What does a good opening do?
A good opening or first page captivates the reader from the very first sentence, and leaves them wanting to read more. Basically, what you want the reader to think after they’ve read your first chapter is, “What’s going to happen next?” It’s that insatiable desire to find out what happens next that urges curious reader to keep reading more. And it shouldn’t be just the first chapter, but EVERY chapter, that piques the reader’s curiosity. Lastly and most importantly—there MUST be conflict. We read about people in trouble; not people with happy perfect lives.
What does a good opening NOT do?
A good opening does NOT give too much information or background. In other words—no info dumps. Good openings do not give too much away—leave just enough out so that your readers will have no choice but to read on to find out what it is that they didn't already know.
Classic Forms of Novel Openings:
1. Food for thought: Open with an abstract or philosophical statement that is relevant to your book’s plot.
Example:Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
2. Meet the hero: Introduce a pivotal character on the first page.
Example: Jack Kerouac, On the Road: “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.”
3. Show them where it hurts: Get right to the book’s central conflict.
Example: Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint: “She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.”
4. Microcosmic anecdote: Tell a small story that serves as an example of the larger story to come.
Example: Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: “For Hush Puppies—the classic American brushed-suede shoes with the lightweight crepe sole—the Tipping Point came somewhere between late 1994 and early 1995.”
5. Surprisingly mundane: Set an ordinary scene in which one intriguing, out-of-the-ordinary thing happens.
Example: Alice Munro, “Nettles,” Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: “In the summer of 1979, I walked into the kitchen of my friend Sunny’s house near Uxbridge, Ontario, and saw a man standing at the counter, making himself a ketchup sandwich.”
6. Be self-conscious: Tell readers exactly what they’re about to read—whether it’s true or not.
Example: Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita: “’Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widdowed Male,’ such were the two titles under which the writer of the present note received the strange pages it perambulates.”
7. Begin at the end: Allude to the book’s conclusion—without giving everything away.
Example: Chuck Palahniuk, Rant: “Like most people, I didn’t meet and talk to Rant Casey until after he was dead.”
8. Set the scene: Paint a picture of an important physical location.
Example: Truman Capote, In Cold Blood: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘Out There.’”
9. Everyday people: Begin with a representative action that defines your character or theme.
Example: Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: “On most days, I enter the Capitol through the basement.”
3 Quick Tips
- Read what you wrote out loud to instantly catch mistakes, or awkward wording.
- Use transitions & sentence variations. For example, don’t start every sentence with “I”. Anything repetitive, unless done intentionally, needs to be edited.
- Write your draft first and edit later.
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