"The only purpose of the first line, is to get the reader to the second line."
That sounds right, but what does it mean? One of my favorite writing instructors from college said,
"A writer needs to lead the reader by the hand."
That is because our writing is never as clear as we imagine it is and our “Aha!” moments are never as clever. The opening line is the writer’s opportunity to reach out and offer to take the reader on a journey. Or, in other words, the opening line sets the tone and introduces the destination so that the last line has the desired impact.
In her blog, Rachelle Gardner demystifies the opening line by listing some real ways that they can capture attention without appearing forced or false. She says she discovered these ways by reading her favorite opening lines and thinking about why she liked them.
"[The opening line] might have:
That is all there is to crafting an attractive opening line, and any one of these examples offered by Rachelle will get your reader through the door. But only a few of these examples will help drive your ending home.
Let's take a look at some examples that I pulled from my favorite picture books at random (Spoilers Ahead).
The Opening Line:
"When Lena woke up, everything was quiet."
The Closing Line:
“Quiet is the tenth way to hear snow.”
The opening line raises questions and questions make good page turns. Cathy hits the page turn by isolating the opening line to the first spread. In this case, I want you to notice that it also foreshadows the ending.
The Opening Line:
"Lubna's best friend was a pebble. It was shiny smooth and gray."
This example introduces compelling characters. The page turn stems from the reader’s interest to find out why the pebble is so special to Lubna. The rest of the story is dedicated to answering the reader’s curiosity. In this case, the text alone does not do the story justice. With the assistance of beautiful illustrations by Daniel Engeus, the book ends exactly the way it began, only this time, the reader feels that the pebble is special just as Lubna does.
The Opening Line:
"Early one morning, a mouse met a wolf, and he was quickly gobbled up." - The Wolf, The Duck, and The Mouse, written by Mac Barnett
This short sentence is spread across three pages, like this: "Early one morning, a mouse | met a wolf, | and he was quickly gobbled up." The first separation causes a short pause in reading, which sets the pace and introduces a problem: a mouse and a wolf don't mix. This is the perfect time for a page turn because Mac has already worked up the suspense. Oddly, the second page concludes the problem introduced on the first page and turns our attention to a new one: the mouse is eaten. Normally this would signal the end of a story, but for Mac, it is the beginning. The fact that the story continues at all is a surprise. Mac manages to do a lot in the opening line because it gets right to the point. Of course, the end turns the opening line on its head. Who knew being eaten could be a good thing? As it goes, the mouse finds a home in the wolf's belly and must fight to keep it.
Without introducing the destination, any one of these stories could fall flat. The reader cares about the end only because the opening line asked them to care. Let’s revise the statement above:
"The purpose of the opening line is to get readers to the end."
Hi, my name is Cory Shaw. I am an author and illustrator of books and book covers for children.
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