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“Every story creates its own rules…and it does that from the very first sentence.”
This is one of many gems from my creative writing professor at the University of San Francisco. Since it’s back-to-school time, I thought I’d hit the books and share a few knock ‘em dead opening lines that might inspire you, whether you’re introducing a newly designed orientation program, writing an article for your intranet, drafting talking points for a leader or pitching a creative idea to your team.
But first, what professor in his or her right mind would suggest establishing brand-new rules for writing? When it comes to opening sentences and paragraphs, what about the importance of grabbing the reader’s attention? What about introducing your main point? Yes, those elements are critical too and should be addressed in the beginning to avoid losing your audience. However, the point my professor makes is that you set expectations with your audience in your opening lines. Before you start writing or speaking, think about the mindset you want your audience to have as they read or listen. Do you want them to take action? Do you want them to laugh? Think beyond capturing your audience’s attention and concentrate on what you want your audience to feel. Then, let that be a guide as you dazzle them.
So, here’s the fun part. Check out a few of my favorite opening lines below. How do they set the tone and establish expectations with you?
- “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – George Orwell, 1984
- “All this happened, more or less.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
- “It was a pleasure to burn.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
- No list would be complete without this one: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
If you’re interested in the intersection between writing and music, check out this article. (Warning: NSFW.) The site syncs up the first line of famous novels and rap lyrics. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Walt Whitman and Big Sean match-up:
O captain, my captain, our fearful trip is done
Rolling in more green than a hole in one.