Stephen King Talks Opening Sentences
To this point, my favorite opening line is from The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.
So much there. What war? Why did she drive a car off a bridge? Why so specific with 10 days? Is it all connected? Atwood throws your right into the middle of the action.
And although I’m not a huge fan of Lord of the Flies, I really love the opening line of that novel as well.
The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.
Who is this boy with fair hair? Is he running from someone? Why is he climbing down a rock wall, headed toward a lagoon of all places?
So all that to say I really love this article by Stephen King on the importance of a novel’s opening line.
King spends months, and even years, writing the opening lines to his novels. He talks about the different types of opening lines and some of his personal favorites from his own novels. One of the most important things an opening line does, according to King, is introduce the reader to the “voice” of the novel.
A book won’t stand or fall on the very first line of prose — the story has got to be there, and that’s the real work. And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice — it’s the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there’s incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen.
Look at some of King’s opening lines. Doctor Sleep, which is King’s new sequel to The Shining, has a great opening line:
On the second day of December, in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado’s great resort hotels burned to the ground.
Or how about this opening line from It:
The terror that would not end for another 28 years, if it ever did, began so far as I can know or tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.
That’s strong. To this day, that book still freaks me out. I hate clowns.
One of my favorite parts of reading a novel is opening the first page and reading that opening line. The first sentence doesn’t make or break a novel, but it can set the tone. It’s like opening a door into a dark room. What are you going to find when your eyes begin to adjust and you can see?
What’s your favorite opening line?
Read the full Stephen King article at The Atlantic.