Writing a good opening line is not a bad way to start a story. Only the other day I finished a draft of a new short story, and then today realised the opening sentences were about as exciting as (and similar to) a weather report. Here they are:

It wasn’t so hot now. This brief period before sundown and the horrendous cold was rather pleasant if you thought about it.

It’s hardly an attention grabber. So I played around with it and came up with this:

Savage were the days and nights of such extremes where only this golden sliver of time between could be endured or imagined pleasant.

 Is that better? I guess it has a different tone, and this might be at odds with what is to follow–a humorous piece.

Anyway, if you’re working on a story right now, why not go back and check the opening. Have you, like me, written a weather report, or have you written something so arresting your audience simply must read on?

And if you have the time, why not post an opening line (good or bad) as a comment! I’d like to see a few.

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About paulmalone

An Australian writer in Austria

23 responses to “Openings”

  1. Tessa says :

    I dunno, the second version has a distinct ring of “It was a dark and stormy night…” to me… I like the first one better. It shows character but isn’t pretentious.

    My current first line (less than ideal, I know):

    A battle has no place for tenderness, and even during the aftermath, kind words are few and far between.

    Have at it!

    • paulmalone says :

      Hi Tessa,

      Thanks for your impression and your opener. Yes, I think the second version is kind of melodramatic. Only this morning I received a rejection slip (another story). “Purple passages” was one of the criticisms. Perhaps that is a danger when writing an opener: trying too hard!

      Anyway, I think your opener is engaging It prompted me to think, Is that how it is? So an opening statement is probably a good way to go.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. caroline buckner says :

    Love this post.

    Here is mine:

    This dry, wrinkled body of mine has survived two wars and a thousand heartbreaks.

    Is that really really boring?

  3. paulmalone says :

    Hi Caroline,
    Great to see your comment. Interesting that war is a common thread here. Anyway, no, I don’t think it is boring. Could be an opening to a memoir or something similar. I’d certainly read on to see exactly who owns that dry wrinkled body!

    Look forward to Friday!

  4. johnlmalone says :

    I like the first opening better; the phrasing could be improved but it’s clear, direct and unpretentious.Maybe leave ou’if you thought about it’. But this is an excellent blog because it draws attention to what is perhaps the most important sentence of a story — though the ending must have all the force of a punch line.

  5. johnlmalone says :

    oh. I do have an opening — I wrote it this morning — but no
    story to go with it :( Here it is: ‘A sense of quiet desperation, of impending doom are feeelings you don’t normally associate with bus shelters but they are precisely what Ben Folter felt while waiting for the 9.25 to the city’

  6. paulmalone says :

    Yes, that rewritten opening is enough to make any reader think, who the hell does this guy think he is!?

    Perhaps this is better:

    It wasn’t so hot now. This golden sliver of time before nightfall and the savage cold was almost pleasant.

    Your opening, I think, is good. All you need now is the story to go with it. Good luck!

  7. Matthew L says :

    My opening line for my current novel:

    The star had reached its zenith.

    For my next novel:

    It was a Monday evening class and all the women had their breasts out on display.

  8. Matthew L says :

    This is from The Cold Six Thousand by (my favourite living author) James Ellroy:
    “They sent him to Dallas to kill a nigger pimp named Wendell Durfee. He wasn’t sure he could do it. The Casino Operators Council flew him. They supplied first-class fare. They tapped their slush fund. They greased him. They fed him six cold.”

  9. paulmalone says :

    I’ve read this opener to your first chapter andI recall the parade of men on the mountain (I think). It’s probably one of those sentences that requires a second one to reel-in one’s attention

    The opener for the second novel is an eye opener. I wondered what kind of class it was: breastfeeding? I guess almost anyone would want to read on to find out more.

    And Ellroy novel launches right into it. Very slick!

  10. johnlmalone says :

    yes I love Matthew’s opener for his new novel: it’s definitely eye catching and you do want to know what is likely to follow.

    Ellroy’s throws you in media res so you’re hooked straight away. There’s so much information there — not just factual but also related to tone and pace

    and Paul: your opening is now stronger: not sure though about ‘the golden sliver of time’ though

  11. johnlmalone says :

    here are some great gpenings from Daniel Woodrell’s collection of stories called ‘The Outlaw Album;:
    ‘Once Boshell finally killed his neighbor he couldn’t seem to quit killing him’ [ from ‘The Echo of Neighborly Bones’ ]; or this: ‘Pelham came awake one night to find a naked man over his bed, growling’ [ from ‘Night Stand’ ] and lastly this: ‘A cradle won’t hold my baby. My baby is two hundred pounds in a wheelchair and hard to push uphill but silent all the time ‘ [ from ‘Uncle’ ]

  12. paulmalone says :

    Yes, the opener for Night Stand is a tough one to beat.

  13. Matthew Leroy says :

    Could you say that scene/ setting description= bad opening; action/ character description = good opening?

  14. paulmalone says :

    I think generally that might be the case. I know I’m a culprit with getting carried away with scene and setting!

  15. johnlmalone says :

    Here are two more great openings I stumbled upon:

    ‘Anna did not simply decide one day that people were made of paper; she came to the conclusion slowly and reluctantly’ [ from ‘Which Way Madness Lies’ by Rachel Aviv ] and this:

    ‘The mermaid washed up on our public beach in the early morning of June 19 at approximately 4.30 am according to the most reliable estimates’ [ ‘Mermaid Fever’ by Steven Milhauser ]

  16. Matthew Leroy says :

    Is ‘Mermaid Fever’ not the greatest title of all time? :)

  17. johnlmalone says :

    it’s also a wonderful story; I encountered this first in Harper’s Magazine four or five years ago and read it at least once each year.

  18. paulmalone says :

    Definitely some more winning openers. You prompted me to browse my shelves for a contender, but nothing quite as clever for an opening line to be found.

  19. johnlmalone says :

    and here’s one more from Stephen King — he has plenty of them:

    “You stole my story,” the man on the doorstop said. “You stole my story and something has to be done about it.”

  20. paulmalone says :

    If it weren’t for the fact it is written by Stephen King I’d have taken this to be a humorous story, but I’m guessing the man at the door was more the sinister type?

  21. johnlmalone says :

    just found this: ‘On the morning of April 21,1995, my elder brother. Worth [short for Elsworth] put his mouth to a microphone in a garage in Lexington, Kentucky, and in the strict sense of having been ‘shocked to death’ was electrocuted’ [ from ‘Feet in Smoke’ in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s ‘Pulphead’]

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