That Pesky Opening Line
When I started writing my weekly Writing Tips posts last year, I posted a piece called Five Ways To Start Your Story. While it does still read as nearly 2,000 words of me crying about how much I loved the new Power Rangers movie (for nostalgia reasons, among other things, and now as I write THIS post, Hasbro has announced that more Power Rangers movies will be in the works in the near future, so I’m basically freaking out about it all over again), I also talked about the types of scenes writers can use to start off their stories on the right foot, as a way to really draw your readers in and make them want to keep turning the page. More on that here.
That’s the macro piece.
Welcome to the micro edition!
Recently, and I don’t even know how it came up, I started thinking about a conversation I had on Facebook in 2009 with two of my closest friends from high school. Back in the 2000s, one of the most popular things for people to do with their Facebooks was “vague book”, also known as posting vague Facebook statuses, with the goal (whether conscious or subconscious) to encourage people to ask what’s going on with you. (I got to college and was harassed so much by my roommates—let’s just say it was in a nice way—and that broke me of the habit. But that is neither here nor there).
This conversation started when my friend M changed her profile picture (to something I can’t even remember, though it was definitely not a picture of her face). And then she added a status that said, “No, my profile picture isn’t random, there’s a story behind it.”
I chimed in with, “If you insist.” And our friend J added, “Whatever you say, M.”
And then I added the comment that would start off a three-hour back-and-forth-and-back again volley of some of the most well-known (and some not so well-known) opening lines from some of the most popular books and movie and television shows when I said: “Okay, I’ll get you started…Once upon a time…”
Why not start off with a classic, am I right?
Throughout the hours-long conversation, lines we tossed in included:
“…in a galaxy far, far away…” (can’t go wrong with Star Wars)
“It was a dark and stormy night…” (another oldie, but goodie)
“The Cylons were created by man. They rebelled. They evolved. They look…human. There are many copies. And they have a plan…” (Like I was going to miss out on bringing up BSG, even if, as it turns out, the Cylons DIDN’T actually have a plan ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
“Hey, I’m just trying to live my life as a regular kid, but people still think of me as THE FAMOUS JETT JACKSON.” (Best show ever, or best show ever? Don’t even get me started on how the TV movie inspired one of the very first novels I wrote back in college)
“LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!!!”
“Here it comes! From the Bob Barker Studio at CBS in Hollywood, it’s The Price is Right!”
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s continuing mission: to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.” (Did you know that you can be both a Trekkie AND a Star Wars fan? What a world.)
“Here’s a story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother, the youngest one in curls…”
“Are ya ready kids? Aye, Aye captain! I can’t heeeaaar yooouuu! AYE, AYE CAPTAIN! oooooooooooo………Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?”
“Now this is a story all about how my life got twisted upside down and I’d like to take a minute so just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air.”
“EARTH!” “FIRE!” “WIND!” “WATER!” “HEART!” “Go Planet!” “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!”
The moral of the story is that when I was thinking about this conversation, it led me to think about how J, M and I volleyed opening lines for stories and movies and shows at the drop of a hat. We didn’t have to think about it, we just typed what came to mind off the tops of our heads. All the lines, the ones above and the ones from the rest of the conversation, were lines that stuck with us for one reason or another.
Some are catching jingles, some are lines from literary classics, and some are from shows with cult-like followings that we watched over and over and over, and when you do something like that, a show’s opening title cards are really going to stick with you, no matter how hard you try to knock them from your mind. I can hear the Battlestar Galactica intro score in my head as I type this post.
As for your novel, your goal (other than finishing it) is to craft an opening line that sticks, one that resonates with your readers and one that will stand out, one that will potentially end up being tattooed to the bodies of your biggest fans (that’s always the dream, isn’t it?)
So, click the Continue Reading button to read the nine tips and tricks to craft the best opening sentence for your story.