The Importance of Opening LinesBy Trish Milburn
We’ve probably all heard that editors/agents only give a manuscript five pages, two pages, a page, insert small amount of our total work here, to make a good impression, to make them care enough to keep reading. Though we might not like this statistic, it’s a fact of the publishing life. So if you want to make your work, including any that will go before judges of the Golden Heart, stand out, start by focusing on your very first line. That first line or opening paragraph will set the tone for the entire book. It’s your manuscript’s first impression, and we all know how important those are.
How you craft an opening line depends on the type of story you’re telling, but regardless of the sub-genre you need it to instantly draw your reader in and give her a tiny snapshot of the type of story that follows. Here are some samples of great opening lines which members of the Wet Noodle Posse used in their Golden Heart-finalist manuscripts.
Want to convey humor right off the bat? Let Esri Rose show you how:
“Claire Pike could not believe her job was in danger because of a man who basically stuffed weasels down his pants.” -- Telling Lies, 2006 Novel with Strong Romantic Elements finalist
If you’re writing novels with romantic suspense or adventure elements, you may consider an opening that causes tension in the reader, like Mary Fechter created in her 2006 single title finalist, Don’t Look Back:
“The attack took place shortly after the morning bell,” the Secretary of State told the roomful of presidential advisors. Dr. Liv Olney gripped the edge of the conference table as she watched the attack on the wall of TV screens behind the Secretary.
There are first lines that practically beg us to read on to find out the meaning behind the author’s catchy and succinct opening, such as Lorelle Marinello’s 2003 romantic suspense finalist, Fairhope:
“Fairhope, Texas had Baptists, Methodists, and ghosts.”
What if you’re writing a little on the steamier side and want to make your reader’s temperature rise from the word “go”? Check out this sample from Jill Monroe’s Share the Darkness, an April 2004 Harlequin Blaze that finaled in the Golden Heart in 2003 as Longest Day of the Year:
“Ward Cassidy could think of better uses for an ice cube.”
For historicals, a sense of time and place, as well as story, are important. Delle Jacobs conveyed these as well as the hero’s goal in the first line of her 2005 Golden Heart winner, Lady Wicked:
“He’d have to marry the richest heiress in England if he meant to salvage this crumbling pile of rocks.”
A mixture of young adult and paranormal? YA is often in first person, so I used that and a hint that all is not normal in the most recent version of my 2007 YA GH winner, Coven:
“Hot tears burn my eyes as I watch the last of the black hair coloring disappear from the tips of my long, blond hair, draining away into nothingness.”
Remember that the first line, at most the first paragraph, is often all you get to make a first impression on contest judges. Yes, they have to read the rest of the manuscript, but it’s hard to recover from a bad first impression. So spend the time and effort necessary to make your opening lines sparkle.
Opening lines aren’t just important in the Golden Heart. In fact, the first round of the American Title contest, in which my manuscript, Out of Sight, is a finalist, is focusing on first lines. Check out all the finalists’ openers and cast your vote here.