3 Tips to Boost Your Story's Opening Lines


In my First 50 Pages class today, I shared 3 tips that students could use to boost the opening lines of their novels:

1. Leverage your verbs! Language matters in your opener, and if you choose strong verbs, your other language choices will follow naturally from there to paint both your story and your character with more creative flair.

For example: If you have a character with a spiky attitude, pick spiky verbs. If they are yoga-mama, then pick cooling verbs. OR create contrast by doing the reverse (this always works to create interest).

2. Hit 2-3 senses in your first paragraph. You need to land the reader physically in your story, either in time/space or in a character's body. And the senses do that naturally.

This approach will help you avoid leaning on internal dialogue/thoughts to carry the story. They will show, not tell, the story on your behalf. Plus, readers will believe you, because they are sensing the story as they read so the scene will feel real to them. Even random dancing penguins on the snowy tundra would work better than no sensory detail at all.

3. Make your first lines of dialogue wow us. The first "spoken" lines (by any character) should be engaging. The tone and style of the words used should resonate with us and make us salivate for the characters' next words. Do not use throwaway lines, like "how are you" and "I'm good" or I will have to hunt you down with my red pen!

Dialogue in storytelling should feel like nothing you would expect to hear. And a clever cheat is to have characters speak in the reverse of what their energy implies. For example: what if you let that yoga-mama above speak like the Spiky chick, and vice versa? That's engaging!