It Was A Dark And Stormy Night…. Darned That’s Already Been Used!
As a writer today we’re inundated with lots of articles about what is the most important part of good writing. A good plot, a great character, conflict, protagonist, dialogue, showing not telling, theme, central idea, argument, and the list goes on and on. As an avid reader for well over half a century I can tell you what’s most important to me. It’s that first sentence; opening line, hook, whatever term you wish to use for a definition.
Some of the best writers know that in that opening line you can be either vague or specific, but in whatever way you approach it, it’s the most important sentence in the entire work. A bad first line will convince me not to buy a book.
For instance suppose you were writing a book and your main character was a very large man. Your first sentence could go many ways. “Bill was a fat man.” It’s true but not particularly engaging. You could go further and say, “Bill was so fat he needed two zip codes.” Pithy, but not exactly enough to make you interested, after all that’s rather cliché. How about “Bill had so many double chins it looked like he was staring at you over a stack of pancakes.” Now that would draw me into the story, and, in fact, is the opening sentence in a short story that I’m currently writing.
There are some pretty good opening lines out there that we’ve all had to try to live up to. Charles Dickens wrote one of them. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”