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Pow! Knock Readers Flat On Their Faces
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Okay, you got me.
It's the opening line!
We're fiction writers (hooray for us), so this is going to be super fun. I'm not here to preach to you about how important the opening line is. That would be wasting your time. Besides, its importance speaks for itself. You want your reader to be under your spell from the very first word. Therefore, I'm here to do something much more meaningful: I'm going to show you how to deliver a sizzling hot sucker-punching opening line.
First things first, clear your mind. Forget about what you want to happen in the short story/novel/chapter. Forget about your characters. Forget about the setting and plot. Forget about what you had for breakfast as well as the fact that you're starting to get hungry again.
Forget everything except the point of view of the narrative. Basically, if you're telling the story in third person, you don't want to start with "I took a nice long walk in the park with my pet poodle." If you haven't chosen a point of view yet, that's even better. Now you're really starting fresh.
Next, get the following statement into your skull: You do not write the story, the characters do.
You may need to repeat it a few times so it will sink in. You see, the best stories are told by deep, riveting three-dimensional characters, ones that are so real, you can feel them breathing down your neck. They can't be real if you're sitting there dictating their every move. You've got to let them speak. Believe it or not, they're actually in your brain somewhere, deep in the right side, underneath all that gunk. They're struggling to be heard. They've got their own story to tell, if you let them tell it. And most importantly, they've got their own voice.
This brings me to my next big point. The first sentence in your piece should be their thought. Now is the time to let some of that story come creeping in. Start to remember your character-not what they are going to do, or what is going to happen to them. It doesn't even have to be the main character. But think about who they are, how they feel about themselves, their emotional state when the scene opens. Listen for their voice. I'm telling you, they're going to say something and it's going to be powerful.
At this point, you may have some sort of opening line and you may not. If your character has spewed hot flames of awesomeness, then congratulations. Your opening line might be finished. But if you still don't have anything on the paper or the computer screen, don't fret. There's more.
Now is not the time to start blabbering about what you want to happen in your story. Instead, it's the time to either remember your theme, or create one. Every piece has a theme (or at least it should). Think of a theme as one of those awful thesis statements you had to write in school for your persuasive essays.
Only this kind of thesis is not awful at all. It's actually one of the most important elements of your story. The theme is like the backbone. Without it, your story will slouch every which way, it won't walk straight, and it might even fall apart. Your theme answers this question: "What's your point?"
So what is your point? Is it that green envy monsters are the most brutal murderers? Maybe you theme is that people are terrible imposters of God. Either way, the theme is a central statement. You don't have to come right out and say it but you need to let your characters express it. They will act it out. The entire story will consist of your characters responding to the theme.
Now here comes the crucial point. Your first line should interact with the theme in some way. Whether your character is accepting or rejecting it, hiding it or shouting it, reacting to it silently, ignoring it or making a comment about it. By now, your head should be popping with noise from your character. Let it rip!
And those are the fundamentals of a good opening line. Remember, yours can consist of anything. Just remember that the strongest openings are thoughts from your character/s (even if they are expressed through dialogue, monologue or physical action). This always applies, no matter which point of view you are using.
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