Novels, on average, have about 300 pages. At 250 words a page that would make a 75,000 word novel. Regardless of the abundance of words, it’s the first few pages that determine a reader’s interest in a story and whether they will continue to follow the author’s creative world until conclusion. The opening line pulls you in, hopefully piquing your interest.
In our daily reading we don’t give much thought to the opening line. They can be short dialogue, “Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy.” or a luxurious description, “The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.” It can offer hints of things to come, introduce an idea or sum up the whole book. Regretfully it is often overlooked as we delve in, quickly reading over the first few pages to determine the essence and worth of further reading.
Some of the best opening lines obviously come from the classics. This simple opening line in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” sums up the social politics for the characters of this era as well as laying the groundwork for many of the storylines.
I’ve often heard Charles Dicken’s opening line from A Tale of Two Cities quoted and misquoted, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Instantly we know there is a division of time and knowledge; which later reflects on the two main characters.
Here’s a game for you: Grab a novel off your book shelf right now (maybe something you’ve recently read) and open it up to the first line. Read it. Think about what the author is trying to say? How it relates to what you’ve already read. Did the author give you a clue in the first line? What importance does this first line have to the whole novel? What if this first line never existed?
For the next book you read, instead of whisking through that first line or paragraph give it a little of your time. Read it a few times. Take in what the author is attempting to say with those few words. If first impressions make any difference then don’t ignore them. It doesn’t necessarily make or break a book but there is a reason behind why the author chose those particular words to start with out of the 75,000 possible words he or she wrote.
The Opening Line was first published 1/22/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.