You’re finally ready. You’ve crafted a detailed outline for your story with compelling plot points, dimensional characters, and a twist-filled finale. Readers will be talking about it for weeks after finishing the book. You sit down in a comfortable chair, your computer at the ready. You’ve opened a new word processing file and saved it with a file name of your story’s title and the date you’re beginning this draft. Chapter One…
“How the heck do I start this thing!?” you yell to the sky.
Writing that first sentence for any story can be a daunting task. You want to entice the reader, bring them into the story’s world, and make them curious about what type of adventure they are about to embark on. How can you craft this perfect sentence that will keep the reader reading?
Let’s talk about it!
You know your story, what the first chapter is about, what’s happening in those initial moments when the story begins, and what characters are present. Using the information, write 5 to 15 sentences that could be used as your story’s opening sentence.
Once you have a list, pick three you like and fine-tune them so they are compelling and can grab a reader’s attention.
Then, you can…
Test It Out
Ask friends, family, or coworkers which sentence grabs their attention and makes them want to read more. Don’t tell them about the story or characters; just have them read the three sentences you crafted and see which one grabs the most attention.
Use this information to decide what the opening sentence should be. If it’s a unanimous vote, that’s a good sign. If it’s mixed, ask people why they chose a particular sentence. Feedback is always helpful.
Still stuck? Leave it for later and move on. Write the rest of chapter one, which will ignite a creative spark leading to the opening sentence. You can add something in brackets, like [Great opening sentence to go here!].
Remember, just because you can’t develop something solid now doesn’t mean you should stop writing. Keep going, and the sentence will eventually materialize.
Start Somewhere Else
If that opening sentence is too distracting, move to a section of the story you can focus on in the meantime. Working on the story and inhabiting its world can help you find that elusive opening.
For fun, I grabbed five random fiction books from my bookshelf to read their opening sentences. I present them below. Which ones caught your attention and made you want to read more?
[I will be using the first sentence of Chapter One and not from any Prologue.]
“Half an hour after Tim Jamieson’s Delta flight was scheduled to leave Tampa for the bright lights and tall buildings of New York, it was still parked at the gate.”
– The Institute by Stephen King
“The prophet was drowning men from Great Wyk when they came to tell him that the king was dead.”
– A Feast for Crows (Game of Thrones, Book #4) by George R.R. Martin
“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein
“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”
– Circe by Madeline Miller
“I spent the last afternoon of Before constructing a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers.”
– Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Your story’s first sentence should grab the reader, but its initial absence shouldn’t keep you from writing. By brainstorming ideas, getting feedback from others, moving on without it, or looking at examples from other authors, you can craft an opening sentence that will bring readers in and keep them engaged.
Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!