Sunday, July 5, 2009

More About Opening Lines

I’ve had three Opening Lines Contests on The Write Game, and before I do another one I thought it might interesting to talk about the winning lines. The winners have had something special in their entries that make them stand out. So what is this “something special?”

Here’s definition of a great opening. (Adapted from Sol Stein in Stein on Writing.)

1. It excites the reader’s curiosity, preferably about a character or a relationship. (Stein later refers to this as “quick characterization.”)

2. It introduces a setting.

3. It makes the story important enough for the reader to continue.

Let’s look at two winners and see how these Opening Lines meet Stein’s criteria.

"I’m not crazy. I promise. I don’t talk to walls, pet my invisible cat named Sugar, dance on tables in the cafeteria, or try to channel John Lennon’s wondering spirit through dollar store crystals." Kathleen Elizabeth

"The funeral was yesterday. Afterwards they drove me 324 miles away to a small town in the Hill Country. They’ve put me in one of those temporary shelters until they can find a place for me. There are fourteen kids here. It’s noisy and crowded. I hate it. I haven’t said a word to anyone." Bish Denham

These winners definitely excite the reader’s curiosity about the character. But how? Can you find the “quick characterization” in each of these? What words or phrases about the character grab your attention? How about the setting? What gives you the hint of where/how this person lives? And why is it important to keep on reading? I'd like to hear your ideas about why these Opening Lines stand out.


  1. Curiosity certainly is key to both those paragraphs. You want to find out more! Intriguing!

  2. Both starts introduce someone who has a specific problem. In the first, we know there is something about the protagonist that people think may be crazy. We want to know what it could be. In the second, we recognize a person who just lost everything, is thrust into a strange, perhaps terrible, situation and has withdrawn.
    I would read both beyond these paragraphs to find out more.

  3. Doesn't it seem easy? Just make people want more.


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