SO I'VE BEEN DOING a lot of reading lately about writing a great opening chapter. It is research for the tricky part of my next novel UNDER TEN THOUSAND STARS, and I’ve discovered a couple of things: one, I can’t read anything smaller than an advertising hoarding without my glasses on – I actually have no idea when I became so blind, and how it happened so quickly, but that's a topic for another post – and secondly, I am just one of many authors who have struggled with this problem. It seems all but a lucky few have approached the very first page of their novel with a mix of dread and unbridled terror.
It has been a recurring theme throughout a number of my recent blog posts: how to capture a reader’s attention from the get-go, and make them want to take the journey with you to the end of the book. And the most crucial thing I’ve learned so far from the many articles, blog posts, and forum discussions is that you’ve got about three sentences to do exactly that. Make them good ones – indeed great, if possible – and the reader will go with you wherever you want to take them. So, on that note, I’ve put together five of the best opening lines I came up with during my exhaustive research (and by ‘exhaustive’ I mean scrolling through Google on a Saturday afternoon while watching a fishing show… See, I wasn’t joking about really needing to wear my glasses.)
In no order of importance:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1813)
“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away.”
Dr Seuss, OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO (1990)
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy, ANNA KARENINA (1878)
“When Hitler came to power I was in the bath.”
Anna Funder, ALL THAT I AM (2011)
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA (1985)
Well, there is a lot of inspiration to be found in writing a novel, but these beautiful sentences had a particular resonance for me. On reading them, I felt as if I’d found a new clarity, a fresh perspective on how to approach this chapter. It is the impact of those words that offers the promise of something wonderful – that immediate connection, a bond, perhaps, that entices the reader into your world. And so I changed the very first paragraph of the very first page, and the rest of the chapter just seemed to fall into place. The writing was no longer passive – in the way an affair never can be; there is a decision made, then acted upon – it now suited the subject matter. I don’t know whether my new and improved opening lines will survive future revisions, but I’m feeling confident and inspired all the same.
I’ll keep you posted.
The Bay of Shadows is available now.
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