Blast in with a hammer – about writing a great opening line


Why start like this…


… or this…


… when you can start like this? © sxc

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”

Unfortunately I did not write this brilliant opening line, Jay McInerney did. It’s the first line of “Bright Lights, Big City”. It makes you want to read on, doesn’t it? Not only does this line set the tone, it raises quite a few questions.

Try rereading the line. You cannot help but wonder: 1. Who, me? 2. What guy is he then? But especially: 3. Where is he? 4. And what time of the morning is it? You just know it’s not going to be a tearoom at nine thirty, right? So how bad is the damage?

The value of a good opening line can hardly be overestimated, I personally think. When you meet a person, the first seconds will determine whether you like this person or not. A book is not that different.

Raising questions is an important key, I think. Questions will impell the reader to keep reading in search of answers to these questions.

Simple entertainment is a second key. A guy in a place like that, at that time of the morning, who should not be there… That ‘s a pretty good promise you won’t get bored.

Right now I’m working on the manuscript for my second novel. So I’m trying to write a punching opening line myself. At the moment, this is what I’ve got (well, a translation of it):

“Do you see that guy? Over there, in the dark between those trees. I’ll be damned if that’s not our guy.”
“Shit, you’re right, there’s someone standing there.”

The two policemen start to walk in my direction.

After a lot of thinking and trying, I decided to start ‘in medias res’, in the middle of the action. The questions I hope this raises, are: 1. Who is this guy? 2. Why is the police after him? What has he done? 2. Will they catch him?

At this point I’m quite happy with this opener. But I’ve still got a few months of pondering and rewriting ahead of me, so nothing has been carved in stone so far.

I hope you like it to! So, if you’ve got an opinion on this and a spare minute, please let me know what you think!