I've been a bit slack lately. Dropbox didn't play nicely with my school laptop so I have a few weeks' worth of lessons to upload here.
Lesson 4: Opening Lines.
Writing a good first line is the most important thing for any writer, especially a debut novelist.
The opening line is what entices the reader to carry on. Since that first reader is typically an agent or publisher, it can mean the difference between your novel being published or not.
Even if you self-publishing, that first line is arguably the most important in the book. It can be the difference between a potential reader buying your book or skipping past the link and buying something else.
But what it MUST do is make the reader hungry for more.
Students were given a list of opening lines, taken from a list of 100 compiled by the Editors of the American Book Review (see the attached document) and asked to choose their three favourite lines. They then shared these with the class and explained what they liked most about them.
Students were then asked to write their own opening line. At this stage there was no need to worry about the story behind the opening, just to write a line that enticed the reader to want more.
As always the students rose to the challenge magnificently - with a wide range of lines encompassing all manner of genres.
Of course, that opening line is only the first step. The real trick is to continue the momentum of that first line and to keep the reader hooked. As an illustration, I used the opening paragraphs of Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' and J.M. Barrie's 'Peter Pan' to show how the next few lines are equally important.
Students passed their opening line to another person. That person then continued the story by writing another paragraph. Again, there was no need to worry about the over-all story, just carry on writing. The fun of this activity is that the person continuing the story will invariably have a completely different idea about the direction to take the story in. The look on students' faces when they hear what their classmate has done with their opener is brilliant.
Finally, just for fun, I've included a list of the worst opening lines. These were all entries into the Bulwer-Lytton Prize, which invites writers to come up with the worst possible opening lines. Although I have to say, some of the lines are so hilariously bad, I just might be tempted to read on... A more complete list can be found here:
As always, feel free to download and use the resources, but please leave my email address and twitter on the first slide.
Any comments/suggestions/improvements appreciated, please use the box below.
Free for non-commercial use.
(c) Paul Gitsham 2013
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