29 May 2018

Writing Tip & Task 1/7: Writing the opening line of your novel

Anna Davis, Curtis Brown Creative Managing Director
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

Day 1: We’re starting our #WriteCBC 7-Day Challenge at the beginning, with first lines. It’s the sentence that you’ll spend the most time on in any novel or short story that you work on. Writing it, rewriting it, staring hard at it, delete it … It’s your crucial starting point so how do you get it right?

When it comes to the tips and tasks for the 7-day challenge, I get to go first (MD’s privilege!). Here’s the tip we’re tweeting:

Your first line doesn’t need to be SHOUTY but should be INTRIGUING. It’s the entry point to your story so make it matter. Don’t go for weather or clichés like waking up in the morning; don’t use ostentatious writerly prose. Draw me into your story.

And here’s the task I’ve set:

Write the opening sentence of a story or novel you’re working on – and take the opportunity to review it, rethink it, tighten it. I’m not looking for the loudest, flashiest, most dramatic sentence. Just open a door that I’ll want to walk through.

These tips and tasks are pithily produced for our Twitter competition – just a bit of fun, but there’s a serious point here that’s worth thinking about when you work on your own fiction. In one sense, the first sentence should be just like any other in your novel/story: It shouldn’t stick out as being ill-matched with everything that follows. It shouldn’t yell so loudly that it feels like … well – like a creative writing exercise! You don’t need to make it an explosion or a man bursting through a door with a gun or a body hitting the floor. It can be any of these things, of course – if that’s right for your story. But in most cases it’s not.

The job of your first sentence is to entice me into your fictional world with something unusual, striking, engaging – which then leads smoothly on to your first paragraph and first page. Your very first words should start to begin the tone for your story. You can introduce a character or place, make something happen or even pose a question, which you shouldn’t immediately answer. It’s the way in to your story rather than a moment to try to blow the reader’s mind with masterful prose – you’re not Henry James, after all. And if you start to think you’ve worked it too hard and overthought it – my advice is to delete it altogether and see how your first paragraph stands up without it.

For more from Anna Davis on getting going with your writing, take a look at our Starting to Write Your Novel course – the first of our three 6-week pay-and-enrol online courses to take you all the way through the novel-writing process.

And you can also click here to browse our full range of creative writing courses in London and online.


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