Written by A Guest Author June 30th, 2022

Common Mistakes Writers Make With Their Opening Lines

By Ashley Taylor Clark

Your opening line is a crucial part of your novel. It offers readers their first impression of your story, introducing them to the world, characters, and overarching tone in just a handful of words. In a lot of cases, readers use these lines to determine if your book is for them. If you manage to get their attention, they’re more likely to continue reading through to the end.

It’s important, therefore, to get your opening line just right. The question is: how? There are a lot of ways you can potentially open your story — chances are, you’ve already tried out a few different opening lines or a few iterations of your current one, just looking for something that clicks. While there’s not a tried-and-true method for creating the perfect opening line for every story, there are a handful of things you should avoid when trying to craft something interesting and functional. Here are three of the most common mistakes writers make with their opening lines to help you avoid the popular pitfalls.

1) They make it too short

Now, you may be worried about making your opening line too long. This is true to an extent — while you don’t want to bog readers down with irrelevant information, you also need to make sure they have enough information to work with as they continue reading the scene.

Your opening line should introduce readers to your story. Short, punchy, or otherwise vague statements don’t do much by way of introduction, as they rarely give readers enough interesting detail to latch onto. Make sure your opening line is long enough (and detailed enough!) to ground them in your story and incentivize them to keep reading.

2) They begin with dialogue

Dialogue is a great way to jump into a scene that’s already in progress, but it’s ineffective for setting the stage and can leave readers feeling disoriented. Consider all the questions an opening dialogue line presents: Who is speaking? What tone are they using? What’s the context of this line?

None of these are the questions you want readers asking right away. They’ll spend more time trying to get their bearings than they will getting acquainted with your story. Save the dialogue openings for later chapters and make sure your opening line is giving readers information, rather than making them aware of the information they lack.

3) They lie to their readers

While it can be tempting to hook readers with immediate drama that gets resolved quickly and cleanly, it’s not a great way to build your reputation. If you set readers up with high stakes that turn out not to be real (inaccurate or over-the-top descriptions, “joke” opening lines, a beginning that’s “just a dream”), they won’t fully trust you to tell the truth throughout the rest of the story.

The stakes you set up in your opening line should be real, no matter how minor they are. Readers will care about a problem if it’s clear that the protagonist cares about it — all you have to do is establish their expectations and follow through. Misleading readers by hyperbolizing or falsely raising insignificant stakes will never be as effective as simply setting up a scene clearly and honestly. Remember: “dramatic” doesn’t always mean “engaging.”

Your opening lines don’t have to be perfect, but they should be effective. Constructing a line that gives readers the information they need in a clear, accurate, and engaging way will always be well worth the trouble.

Bio: Having spent all her life in the rainy PNW, Ashley knows the value of spending time inside with a good book. She turned her passion for stories into a career as a freelance fiction editor, sharing her expertise and enthusiasm with her fellow writers.


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