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How To Write A Good First Line (For Books, Novels, Short Stories, Essays, and Articles)

Guest writer Cindy LaPenna is a writer and librarian from Pennsylvania. She is the author of Around Bangor, a pictorial history about the town where she grew up. Her articles and poetry were published in several newspapers and various websites. In this post, she discusses how to write a good first line (or opening line) for a book, novel, short story, essay, or article.

With A Declarative Sentence
Cultivating a winter garden is an easy, natural way to lift your spirits.

Ask A Question (Note: Some literary agents feel this method is overused.)
Have you ever looked out the window on a winter day and wished you were basking in the sun on a Caribbean island?

Summarize
Beauty, relaxation, and stress-relief are some of the many benefits you’ll experience from winter gardens.

Quotation
O, Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

—Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind”

Fragmentation
Short days. Long nights. Snow. Ice. Cold. It was a season John dreaded.

We used the winter theme for a reason, and that is to show that several techniques can work not only for different writings, but also for one particular story. One specific technique, fragmentation, for example, might add more interest or inject more sincerity into a story than asking a question or stating a fact.

Read each opening aloud, along with a paragraph or two of your story, to see which one sounds the best. The gist and content of a particular piece will help you determine which technique is best.

Some other commonly used openers are:

Shock ’Em
Danny had it all—charisma, power, and fame. No one knew that at the end of the day, he made his way home to sleep, alone, in the car he called home.

Descriptive
The tiny orange kitten sat on the sidewalk, crying for its mother, its fur wet and matted.

Factual
The childhood toys known as teddy bears are named after Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.

Hypothetical
If you could change your life today, in any way you can imagine, what would it be like?

Use these techniques as guidelines, but add your own creativity, personality, and writing style. Keep the writing fresh and original and avoid clichéd language to keep your readers reading to the end.

***

Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service. We’ve been helping our clients get their work noticed by literary agents and magazine editors since 1994. If you’ve got a great first (opening) line—whether it’s for a short story, essay, nonfiction book, or novel—we’ll help you get it to the agents and editors most likely to get hooked!

3 Responses to How To Write A Good First Line (For Books, Novels, Short Stories, Essays, and Articles)

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