Draw readers into story with great opening lines

Among the most important words in your story are the ones that begin it. Those words should get the reader to ask, “What’s going on here?” so he keeps reading. In a short story, the author usually only has a couple of sentences to make this happen; in a novel, a couple of paragraphs typically is the limit.

Your opening lines – also known as the grabber or narrative hook – need to deliver some vital information to readers as well. In most stories, the opening lines provide some striking situation that presents the reader with something unusual, and they usually introduce the main character, his conflict to be resolved and the setting.

There are a couple of ploys you can use to create gripping opening lines. First, show two seemingly disparate elements, such as “At 0150 Greenwich Mean Time on December 1, 1975, every telephone in the world started to ring”, which Arthur C. Clarke uses in “Dial ‘F’ for Frankenstein.” Another ploy is to start with a “distancing move” that shows we’re in a different world, such as “The great eye floated in space”, in Ray Bradbury’s “The Lost City of Mars”. A third technique is to show your main character in a crisis or puzzling situation, such as “Why must they do it one December 28th? John Stapleton considered the question” as Theodore I. Thomas wrote in “December 28th”.

When writing your story’s opening lines, remember that they should:
• Be interesting and intriguing enough to draw reader in
• Be integral to the story, perhaps even holding key clues to how the main character will resolve the central problem by foreshadowing the ending
• Establish, without much detail, the main character/protagonist and a problem or conflict that that the main character must resolve; in doing so, those lines shows the main character threatened and indicate what’s at stake for him
• Establish the setting, or at least the story’s place by establishing the scene of where the main character is
• Reveal the antagonist, if only vaguely
• Set the story’s tone
• Give the reader a sense that the main character’s life began before the story did; as Ben Bova wrote in “Notes to a Science Fiction Writer,” “this helps convince the reader that … (the main character) is really alive”


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.