In the past, I've blogged about how to write a great first chapter for your novel, but I didn't dig too deep into the opening lines of a novel. In all honesty, the opening first lines of your novel may be the most important lines in your entire book. Those are the lines that a potential reader reads to decide if your book is important enough to buy. If those opening lines, or pages, don't grab their attention, readers may not finish, or even buy, your book.
How do we, as writers, write strong opening lines that grab our reader's attention? I will discuss four tips below.
-Avoid cliché openings: A cliché is something that lacks original thought or is overused. Basically, something readers have all seen and read before. You want your novel's opening to be original, unique, and stand on its own. Your opening should grab your reader's attention, not remind them of another book on their shelf. I found an excellent article by Anne R. Allen that discusses thirteen ways not to start a novel. Does your book open in any of these ways?
-Choose a good starting point: Avoid info dumps or starting with your character's thoughts. Readers are smart and they don't need a ton of backstory to understand what's going on. When you open with backstory or your character's thoughts you do more telling than showing. This makes it hard for your reader to connect with your characters. Instead, think about the inciting incident of your story. What sets your story in motion? Does a significant event occur? Is there a mystery that needs to be solved? Start your novel in the middle of the action or close to the inciting incident. This helps to immediately suck your readers in and keep them reading.
-Play around: Typically, good opening lines start with dialogue, action, or a statement. Try each of these out to see which opening line fits your novel best. Once you pick one, don't be afraid to change it as you write more of your novel. Nothing is set in stone until you hit publish. As you write and get to know your characters more, you may want to switch up your opening line(s) and that's okay.
-Research: How do other books in your chosen genre open their novels? What does your target audience think? How do other writers feel? Don't be afraid to reach out to the writing community for help with this. You don't have to let people read your entire manuscript, but do let them read the first couple of pages and see if you've successfully hooked them. Remember, you don't have to accept everyone's advice, but if the majority of the people you survey feel that your novel's opening is weak, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.
I hope this blog post was helpful in helping you write a strong opening for your novel. If you have any other questions or additional tips, please leave them in the comments down below!