Tips on Tuesday: “Once Upon a Time” and Other Timeless Openings

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Are you in need of a “killer” first line? Yes, we all are. Often suggested is that you should write your first line (or opening paragraph, whatever) after you have finished writing the entire book/story.

I love Brian Klems, online editor for The Writer’s Digest—I like his ideas, and I generally like his guest posts. Recently, he posted a guest blog by WD contributor Jacob M. Appel, who offered seven different approaches to writing a killer opening line, including examples from classic novels, of which I’ll only cite a few.

Each suggestion began with a “Statement of . . .” and I thought “What about beginning with a question? Or some dialogue, or a significant date, or . . . ” Yes. A dozen other things. But look at the few examples I included here ‑‑‑ look at the strength of starting with a statement:

  1. Eternal Principal: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ‑ “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
  2. Simple Fact: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 ‑ “It was a pleasure to burn”
  3. Paired Facts: Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter ‑ “In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.”
  4. Simple Fact Laced with Significance: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind ‑ “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful.”
  5. To Introduce Voice: Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange ‑ “What’s it going to be then, eh?”
  6. To Establish Mood: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar ‑ “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
  7. That Serves as a Frame: 14th Century storytellers . . . and ever since ‑ “Once upon a time . . . “

Appel includes more examples, and explanations of some. I highly recommend reading the entire article from Writer’s Digest online, Jan. 9, 2014.

See you next on Thinkin’ on Thursday!


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