Good writers never write a first sentence; they carefully create and craft one with a clear objective in mind.
The opening sentence in any form of writing needs to fulfill the goal of convincing a reader that what follows is worth reading.
Whether you are writing a novel, an essay, an article, a blog post, or a poem, your first few words matter.
You need to craft these five, ten, or fifteen words to instantly grab, hook, inform or interest a reader.
Writing a first sentence
If you are looking for rules, I’m sorry, but there aren’t any.
It’s not about avoiding prepositions, adverbs, or pronouns. You can use any point of view.
There’s no reason why you can’t use dialogue or pose a question. It’s all up to you.
But this article is not only about great opening lines in novels. Carefully crafting an initial sentence applies to all forms of writing.
It’s all about thinking, analyzing, and understanding the purpose of your introductory sentence.
When you write an email or a letter, your first sentence quickly summarizes the topic.
You might even state what you want the reader to do.
In any form of writing, the purpose of a first sentence is crucial.
So how do you craft an opening line?
What is your introductory sentence doing?
You need to answer this question when you analyze any first sentence.
How are you trying to engage a reader’s interest?
Because I blog a lot, I read a lot of advice articles.
But I’m often impressed by some of the first sentences that Neil Patel crafts.
Here’s an example from a post about gaining Youtube subscribers.
How did I get over 942,000 subscribers without spending money on ads? Plus I am not famous, I’m not funny and I’m not a male model.
Yes, I know it’s two sentences, but its primary purpose is to intrigue with a question.
However, the addition of a bit of humor really works well to grab a reader’s interest.
The best way to analyze and write a first sentence is to decide what it’s trying to do. Your answer will usually be a single verb.
Here are some examples of the most common functions of an opening sentence.
Once you can give a sentence a specific function, you are halfway there.
All you need to do then is craft it to work even better.
Functional opening sentence examples
Every time you write a first sentence, decide on its purpose.
When you do this, it makes it much easier to craft your sentence.
One of the easiest and most effective is to question your reader.
Do you wonder if your grammar is good enough?
How can you write a book when you have a full-time job?
Why aren’t any of your blog posts ranking on page one of Google?
A quick summary can work too.
I’m going to give you ten totally new and surprising ways to cook bell peppers.
If you are out of writing ideas, these five tips will get you writing again in an instant.
When you’re ready to publish your book, use this checklist to make sure you do it the right way.
You can always try to gently provoke to attract interest.
You think you know how to charge a phone correctly, but I bet you don’t.
Why did you rush your proofreading and publish an article full of errors?
I reckon you’ve made this stupid mistake as often as I have.
For novels and short stories, using intrigue to add a little mystery is often a good idea.
He was shocked to see five million dollars in his bank account, but what he did next would change his life, and not for the better.
Maude married an identical twin, but now she’s not sure which one is her husband.
As he swore the oath of office, the new president felt a shiver of fear down his spine as he preyed that his one deadly mistake in life would remain a secret.
All it takes is a little imagination to formulate sentences that fit the purpose.
But it often takes a few tries and experimenting to get it right. When you do, you’ll know.
First sentence tips
For novels and short stories, you will most commonly use the third-person point of view.
However, you always have the choice to use narrative or dialogue to engage your reader as quickly as you can.
With articles, though, the second-person is more appropriate because it’s much easier to connect with readers. It’s then about them and not you.
If you use the first person, take extra care because it’s now about you and not your reader.
But whatever you are writing, keep your reader in mind as you draft and write your first sentence.
Always think about how they will react to your short few words. Do you want to shock them, empathize or tease them?
When you know the function, you have more chance of writing a great opening line.
Of all the words in a story, article, or even a short Facebook post, the first few deserve much more attention than all the rest.
If you fail to interest a reader with the first sentence, they will rarely bother reading any further.
Next time you sit down to start a new writing project, don’t agonize over the first sentence. Get on with writing.
But always go back to it when you have time and ask yourself if it could be better. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll want to improve it.
Even then, it won’t be the last time. During editing and proofreading, you or your editor might have new ideas.
In some cases, it could be the one last change you make before publishing.
As I said in the first line of this article, good writers never write a first sentence.
It’s always a work-in-progress task and probably the last sentence you will edit, change or improve.
And if you are wondering, the purpose of my first sentence is to inform and summarize. Hopefully, it worked.