Here are links to other writing tips:
Dialog: The elements and art in dialog
Fastest Gun in the West: Writers often assume readers will fill in the details
Narrative Voice in Storytelling: A discussion of point of view and verb tense and how these elements affect the story.
Description: The red meat of storytelling.
Flashbacks: Hey, who's in here with me? This is my flashback
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night:
Creating compelling openings for novels
Perhaps the most important first step in writing a novel is
constructing the kind of opening (within the first sentence or
paragraph) that will grab a potential reader's attention, giving him or
her a reason to continue perusing the novel. I remember when I was in
high school, our school library had a small rack of paperbacks for
sale. It's where I picked up Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment as well as George Orwell's 1984.
I had no idea who George Orwell was. This was 1964 and I was sixteen.
But as soon as I read the opening sentence of that book, I snapped it
shut and bought it—for an incredible $0.35. Anyway...what grabbed me
was this: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were
It was just bizarre enough about clocks striking "thirteen" to
compel me to want to find out what kind of quirky world had such a
different time-keeping system. Right, we do have twenty-four hour
clocks, but that never struck me, as I stood in front of the rack of
Years later, I would pen my first novel and it struck me that I needed a compelling opening, as well, so I wrote:
Incidentally, the opening was also a flashback. These can be tricky in
the openings of novels, but for the moment in which I had Joel awaken,
we are in the present of the story, but shortly thereafter we go into
the flashback to the night before to show just why he might have been
disturbed when he woke up the next morning. At any rate, the opening
does compel readers to continue reading to find out what caused Joel to
be disturbed, and even though the "answer" is given in the first
chapter, other incidents in that first chapter continue to compel the
reader forward. In a broad sense, then, the openings can do any of a
number of things to entice readers to continue, and one of these is to
gain, as quickly as possible, empathy for the main or first character
we meet. It could also work in the opposite way, by introducing us to
what is obviously the villain or protagonist in the story, and our job
as writers is to make the protagonist interesting enough that readers
will want to find out what he/she is up to.
Joel woke up disturbed.
In another novel I began with:
Uncle Sean sure is pretty, but there's something wrong with him, anyway.
And then, there's the famous, "It was a dark and stormy night," penned by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in 1830 in his novel Paul Clifford. The entire opening of this line is:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell
in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a
violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London
that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely
agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the
Opening lines or paragraphs set a mood right away, or they hint at
something out of the ordinary. They don't have to be supernatural. It
can be something as simple as an interrupted routine, say, in an old
folks home. "The food trays didn't arrive at eleven o'clock. In fact,
outside in the hall there was no sound, whatsoever..."
Just to get your creative juices flowing, here are a couple more
opening lines that do the right job of gleaning reader interest,
hinting at something more to come and causing readers to continue
These lines come from the editors of American Book Review who
have selected what they consider the most memorable first lines of
novels. The titles on the list span centuries and genres and include
classics and contemporary novels that are certain to become classics.
Read more: Best First Lines of Novels
It was a wrong number that started it, the
telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on
the other end asking for someone he was not.
So, even if you are well on your way to finishing your first novel (or
even your sixth or seventh), consider the novel opening. Catchy, simple
opening sentences do the most to grab readers; but so do cleverly
worded, interesting, and arresting opening paragraphs. Just remember
that a flat opening, an indulgence by the writer in beautiful prose,
for example, will not necessarily get readers to go beyond the first
—(Paul Auster, City of Glass, 1985)
Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own
orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not
drag my father beyond this tree.”
—(Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans, 1925)