Beard says that opening lines should:
- Catch the reader’s interest with humor, action or danger
- Get right to the point
- Raise a question: Why is this so? Or, what is happening? By raising a question, you increase the odds the reader will keep reading to find the answer
Christie Craig and Faye Hughes, in THE EVERYTHING GUIDE TO WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL suggest elements on how to open a romance novel:
- The hero introduces the conflict, through either the intriguing premise or precipitating event
- The heroine introduces the conflict, through either the intriguing premise or precipitating event
- The villain introduces the threat of danger or other major subplot that serves as the external conflict
An opening should “hook” your reader with “something that will grab your reader’s attention and make her want to read your book ahead of any other book presented to her.” Ah, but how do you “hook” the romance reader? Craig and Hughes offer two techniques: the intriguing premise or the precipitating event.
- The Intriguing Premise “is the bare bones of the plot, the concept behind the novel that intrigues and sparks the reader’s curiosity.” You hook your reader into the plot by engaging in her emotions and making her care about your characters.
- The Precipitating Event ‘is the initial moment of crisis or moment of change.”
Whichever technique you choose to start your story with, you must always start where “things begin to get interesting, when the conflict arises.” Often, a writer will try to explain the situation or tell the reader how the hero got to point the story opens. This is backstory and will only drag down the opening. So STOP! Start with the conflict, the problem, the challenge….don’t explain how the hero ended up in a life or death fight, just show it happening. Don’t explain how the heroine ended up on the doorstep of the hero, just put her there.
It’s also important to remember, says Craig and Hughes, that the opening line matches the tone of your novel. If your novel is dark, don’t open with a joke. If your novel is a romantic comedy, opening with a grisly murder probably isn’t the best idea. I know, these are extreme examples, but you get the idea.
In one of my stories, the open line is “Gavin Holloway was a leg man and the legs standing beside the information desk had more than his attention on alert.” As I wrote THE PRICELESS GIFT, I realized I needed to make reference to this opening sentence at least once during the book. I couldn’t hook the reader in with him being a leg man without talking about the legs later in the book. I’d given a promise and I needed to fulfill it.
Here’s a few more example of opening lines:
The worst part about murdering someone was planning exactly how to do it. – DIVORCED, DESPERATE AND DATING by Christie Craig
“Not again,” Leah Smith swore under her breath as she strode into the warm lobby of the Kemah Towers Condominiums. – A COWBOY’S DREAM, by Anna Kathryn Lanier
Nothing hounded a time guardian more than duty. – SPELL OF THE KILLING MOON by Skhye Moncrief
Charlotte set the wine goblet on the wooden stool she had snuck away from beside the central camp fire. – CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY by Jannine Corti-Petski
Sheriff Dave Slade snapped his watch closed and stuffed the timepiece back into his vest pocket. The stage, with the answer to his prayers, arrived in ten minutes. – SALVATION BRIDE, by Anna Kathryn Lanier (I know, that’s two sentences. I cheated, because I wanted to hook you more)
“You want me to do what?” – THE DOCTOR WEARS A STETSON by Anne Marie Novark
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. – PAUL CLIFFORD by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, First Baron of Lytton
What is one of your favorite opening lines by another author? What is your own favorite line? Leave a comment and you could win a copy of THE PRICELESS GIFT, which has my favorite opening line.
Anna Kathryn Lanier is a multipublished author with The Wild Rose Press.
Anna Kathryn Lanier