On the importance of opening lines – Kitty French

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By Kitty French

One of the things I try especially hard to do is to make the opening lines of a book really attention grabbing, very often by using dialogue. I’m a big believer in starting right in the middle of the action, kind of like grabbing the reader by the throat and dragging them into the thick of it.♥

In my latest book, Melody Bittersweet and the Girls’ Ghostbusting Agency, the opening paragraph begins like this:
‘So what do you do with your spare time, Melody?’ I look my date square in his pretty brown eyes and lie to him.

From this, we can already deduce that Melody is single and that she’s hiding something, and also that she’s in the middle of a first date right now. There is no scene setting or mention of the weather; we’re right in there inside her head and rooting for her. It’s a neat way to get readers turning the page from the get-go, and especially useful when it comes to hooking readers who use the ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon to see if they’ll enjoy a book. I think of writing openings as rather like writing an invitation to the best party in town, you want whoever reads it to instantly say yes.

One of my favourite American authors, Jenny Crusie, does this especially well. In Tell Me Lies, of my all-time favourite books, she begins like this:
One hot August Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace panties. They weren’t hers.
And there we are, right in the action and already furious on Maddie’s behalf. I can totally recommend getting hold of the book, because it more than lives up to the promise of that cracking opening line.

There are lots of other famous examples in literature. I especially like this one from the inimitable Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding:
I WILL NOT drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week. Smoke. Waste money on: pasta-makers, ice-cream machines, or other culinary devices which will never use; books by unreadable literary authors to put impressively on shelves, exotic underwear, since pointless as have no boyfriend.
Isn’t that brilliant? We know so much in so few words about our heroine, and I for one fell in love with her before the end of the paragraph. She is utterly relatable to a huge swathe of the population, and I didn’t need to read anymore before I parted with my money.

Lastly, perhaps one of the most famous, most quoted and most parodied of them all from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
I don’t think it gets more perfect than that, does it? First lines are tricky to get right, but worth the blood, sweat and tears because a good one helps sell your book.

Kitty French is a mum of two, wife of one, and a full-time romance writer. She writes erotic and paranormal romance under the name Kitty French and romantic comedy under the name Kat French. Her latest novel Melody Bittersweet and the Girls’ Ghostbusting Agency is out now.


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