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But what we’re not taught is that such large hooks also have the power to easily disappoint readers if the subsequent narrative doesn’t measure up.
If you begin writing at the most dramatic or tense moment in your story, you have nowhere to go but downhill.
) Writers are often advised to make a short list of titles and try them out on friends and family. An opening line, like a title, sometimes seems truly perfect—until you come up with several even better choices.
While drilling aspiring literati on the subtleties of characterization and plot, few, if any, writing instructors offer lessons on crafting a first line, or even an introductory paragraph—though many agents and editors, if not impressed after a sentence or two, will read no further.
The only way to know this is to reconsider the opening sentence, like the title, once the final draft of the story is complete. That doesn’t mean your first opening needs to be scrapped entirely; instead, file it away for use in a future project.
Needless to say, a brilliant opening line cannot salvage a story that lacks other merits, nor will your story be accepted for publication based on the opening alone.
The sentence you are currently reading has the potential to brand itself indelibly upon our cultural consciousness and to alter the course of Western Civilization. But what author doesn’t dream of crafting an opening line that will achieve the iconic recognition of “Call me Ishmael,” or the staying power of “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth …”?
In writing, as in dating and business, initial reactions matter. Appel is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City.
But in a literary environment where journals and publishing houses receive large quantities of submissions, a distinctive opening line can help define a piece.