Learn How To Write Smashing First and Last Lines

8 1/2 Tips for How to Write Opening and Closing Lines Readers Will Love to Quote

Learn How To Write Smashing First and Last LinesWhen I’m scanning an Amazon preview to decide if a book is going to be worth my time, the first test is always the opening line. A sloppy, casual, or plain-Jane opening line instantly makes me suspect I’m looking at the work of an author who is an outright amateur or, at the best, someone who lacks that special “it” factor that takes prose from “all right” to “awesome.”

Similarly, closing lines are every bit as important in their own right. Even though few people will read your closing line prior to finishing the book, it is still arguably the second most important line in the entire story, right after the first line. It brings your story full circle, leaves your readers with an indelible impression of your book, and, once again, proves whether or not you’re the master of your story.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on two little lines. But no worries! There’s actually a handy little checklist you can use when figuring out how to write opening and closing lines that will stick with readers long after their initial Amazon scan. Perhaps your opening and closing lines may even end up on most-quoted lists right alongside such luminaries as Austen, Melville, and Tolstoy!

4 (and 1/2) Tips for How to Write an Opening Line That Shows Readers You’re the Boss

I carp a lot about how tough beginnings are. One of the top reasons beginnings are hard is because the entry point—the opening line—is perhaps the hardest part of all. Occasionally, lightning will strike and the perfect line will zing from the ether to your brain to your Scrivener doc. (And all the angels sing!) But for all those times when you sit down in excitement to begin your amazing new story, only to spend the first hour staring at the blinking cursor, wondering how in tarnation to find an opening line that works, here are four tips to get your started.

1. Reveal Your Story

Whenever possible tell the whole story of the novel in the first sentence.—John Irving

John Irving is famous for writing his closing line first, and that perhaps is the secret to his opening lines. When you know where the story is going, you then have the ability to craft an opening line that asks all the right questions. Your opening must do more than hook readers, it must immediately fulfill the promise of your premise’s hook and thematic question.

Naturally, this doesn’t mean spelling out the entire plot (except for when it does). What it means is that the essence of your story’s questions, its angst, its focus, and its themes should all be swimming in the subtext of your opening line. Your opening line tells readers what your story is about. Your story can be amazing, but if you fail to share that in your opening line, how are readers ever going to know?

A Prayer for Owen Meany

2. Ask a Question

Everybody knows the most important job of any opening line is that of hooking readers. But how to plant that hook is somewhat less clear. Actually, all four of the tips we’re looking at here are ways of hooking readers, getting them to sit up, take notice, and say, Yes, this is a book I want to read. However, this second tip is the one most blatantly about hook-planting.

Get readers to ask a question about your story. Pique their curiosity. Tell them something in that opening line that doesn’t quite make sense. Create a sense of dichotomy, two different ideas juxtaposed against one another, creating a sense of disharmony that can range from the blatant to the ever-so-subtle subtextual. Show readers right from the start that something is amiss in paradise.

Time Traveler's Wife

3. Be Brilliant

Long ago, writing friend Melissa Ortega made a comment about opening lines that has made her an angel on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, with every opening line I write. She said something in the vein of:

The opening line should be brilliant. If it’s not, why bother reading the rest of the book?

In short, that opening line better sparkle. This isn’t just another sentence in your story. This is the sentence. This is the one sentence, out of all your sentences, people might actually remember after they close the book. This is your one chance to be brilliant in a way that is both memorable and useful (in that, if readers like this line, then, hey, they just might read the next one!).

Avoid bland openings. Don’t open with: “The sun rose” or “Sam opened his eyes” or even “The battle raged on.” Look for color, depth, power, and specificity.

Gone With the Wind

4. Create a Voice

The most important element in a story opening is your protagonist. While it may not always be possible to introduce the protagonist by name (or even pronoun) in the very first line, you want, at the very least, to immediately introduce readers to this person via the narrative voice of the opening line.

Tone, in itself, can create the kind of hooking juxtaposition we talked about in #2—and, in turn, that skillful use of irony can add just the kind of brilliance mentioned in #3. Whether your character is so on-the-nose in observing a situation that she creates her own irony for more observant readers, or whether the character is ironic enough to prove her awareness of the drama about to unfold upon her—both can be shared subtextually with readers before the character herself is ever directly mentioned.

Told You So Kristen Heitzmann

4 1/2. Leverage Your Title

Okay, so I lied. Your opening line isn’t actually the first thing readers will read. Your title is. That means you have an extra playing piece to work to your advantage. Your first line will be read in the context of your title. Your title will become a clue that helps readers interpret your first line. This means, if you use it right, your title can create one more layer of interesting irony, theme, and curiosity within your first line.

Example:

Note how all the above titles offer insight into their first lines. If you mismatched any of these titles and their opening lines, your first impression of all these stories would change drastically. Go ahead—try it!

4 Tips for How to Write a Closing Line Readers Will Never Forget

My closing lines usually find themselves, but not before I experience several small moments of panic, wondering how I’m going to wind everything down in the final chapter and find the one perfect line that will definitively tell readers “this is THE END.” More than that, good closing lines must sum up your story (without being on the nose) and leave readers with exactly the right flavor.

1. Choose Your Best Line

The last line is as important as the first, if for different reasons. End the story on your best, or second best, line. Don’t write past it. This is the line that echoes in our mind when the story’s over.—John Dufresne

If you do it right, people will want to stop and read your last line over one more time just to savor it—and the experience of your wonderful novel as a whole.

Book Thief

2. Watch Your Rhythm

Unlike your opening line, your closing line will be under certain structural restraints. Like the closing notes of a song, it must guide readers to a sense that the story is, indeed, over.

In some stories, a disorientingly abrupt ending may be appropriate. But in most, you will want to ease your readers to the finale, usually with a series of longer sentences leading up to a final short sentence that puts the period on the whole book.

Although you want to maintain a tone consistent with the rest of the book’s narrative, your final lines may be the most poetic in the entire story. Certainly, nowhere else are the poetic techniques of rhythm and meter more useful.

Shawshank Redemption

3. Look for Symbolism, Subtext, and Irony

Your closing line is arguably the most thematic of the entire story. Although you never want to come out with an on-the-nose “moral of the story” or “this is what the story was really about”—you do want to take the opportunity to underscore the story behind the story.

But if you can’t come right out and say, “And so twoo wuv twiumphed again!”—how do you accomplish this? This is where your most powerful authorial weapons become even more valuable: symbolism, subtext, and irony. Look for thematic motifs you can pluck from earlier in the story to reinforce here at the end. Look for ways to state your thematic premise without stating it—perhaps by stating the opposite, or having characters talk around it, letting the subtextual truth hang heavy amidst the irony.

Once an Eagle

4. Answer One Question, Raise Another

The finale of your story must answer your story’s most important questions—the Dramatic Question and the Thematic Question (about your plot and theme, respectively). It must tie off all the loose ends and satisfy your readers’ burning curiosity. It must present a sense of finality.

But you don’t want too much finality. You don’t want to completely slam the door on your readers’ experience of the story. Instead, you want to leave them the sense that the story and the characters will continue to live and breathe beyond the covers of the book. Just as in life, one saga ends only so another can begin. Even as you stamp “The End” on this story, leave readers with that sense that a new story is just beginning for your characters (whether you’re planning a sequel or not).

Ender's Game

***

Excellent opening and closing lines are loving touches from masterful authorial hands. They’re a sure sign their authors are aware of their stories, in control of their prose, and—as a result—very likely to be able to spin a story readers can trust in from beginning to end. In learning how to write opening and closing lines that delight readers, keep these eight (and a half) tips in mind and have fun creating something special.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What do you find most challenging about how to write opening and closing lines for your story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I know the problem. The opening of Run From The Stars went through about four major rethinks before I settled on:

    Lieutenant Jane Gould pressed the button firmly and the stars began to go out. They faded first from the aft edge of the flight deck window, reddening and dwindling away as the field took hold. Then the orthodynamic drive lifted the ship right out of real space and she was looking at the other universe behind the darkness.

    What is supposed to happen is that the reader has to keep going to find out how and why.

    Sixty thousand words later a somewhat battered but undeterred Jane speaks the last line:

    ‘Arthur Kelso is still out there somewhere. And while he’s free he’s trouble. When that trouble blows up you’re going to need me on operations, which is why I had to come back. I’m only sorry that I had to do it the hard way.’

    What I’m trying to do is hint that in the sequel the stakes will be higher, the explosions bigger, and the peril even more deadly. That is what happens…

    Have I got it right? Does this hook you?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Last line is great. The first line is beautiful, but I would like to see a stronger sense of mystery or dichotomy. The only question it gets me to ask is “Where are they going?” which isn’t strong enough to hook me into a premise. Beautiful description though!

      • J.M Barlow says:

        I like the opening, but her emotion when pressing the button should be present. This is a characteristic moment we’re talking here. If so subtly as the way she presses the button as the indicator: “pressed the button firmly” could be replaced by something more characteristic, and perhaps the way she watches the stars fade as well.

  2. I bookended my draft about Samson with the following opening and closing paragraphs.

    Manoah climbed out of the winepress covered with dust and chaff from threshing grain. This is intolerable, he thought. A winepress is for pressing grapes. A threshing floor is where a farmer should be winnowing grain, not a winepress. With a puff he blew the chaff from around his mouth. The motes of dust had settled in his hair and beard giving him the hoary look like of a tribal elder instead of the young man that he was. God curse every one of those uncircumcised Philistine dogs for driving an honest man to such depths. With his left hand, he cleared the grime from his nose so he could breathe clearly once again, his eyes scanning the hillside for his wife whose shout had interrupted his work. She was hurriedly picking her way down the path leading to the winepress.

    But what was it all for? Manoah wondered after he had buried his son in the family grave. The clans were not united in a concerted opposition to the raiders. The Philistines were still there, still in their fortified cities, still shouting their pagan defiance against the High and Holy God. And still there was none to raise a hand against them. Manoah had no answers. He pondered this is he took his flail and threshing fork from where the tools were hanging. His mind wandered has he climbed to the top of the hill where he had been threshing wheat for the last several years. He pondered the meaning of the last forty years as he tossed the beaten grain high into the air to separate it from the hulls and the chaff. With every toss a puff of dust was cast to the wind to be slowly scattered in the valley below him. Do any of us really make a difference in this world? Do our lives really count for something? Or are we scattered like the empty useless hulls from beaten grain? Manoah shook his head in dismay; there was no point in pondering the imponderables and asking unanswerable questions. He bent his back to the work, unconcerned about the tell-tale plumes of dust since there were no longer enough Philistines left in the valley brave enough to raid his farm.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Using Manoah to frame the story is nice, especially since Samson isn’t around in the finale.

  3. I just finished reading The Book Theif for the first time. I remember being distinctly awed at the beauty and insightfullness of that last line. It was one of the things I remembered the most about the book. Goes to show how powerful that last line can be.

  4. All so true.

    I especially agree about rhythm, because of one painful moment I remember as a reader: a marvelous short story about hearing a folk legend about evil spirits that took mischievious children… and it all built up to the final line

    “That’s why our children are so well-behaved,” he said.

    The “he said” simply stomps over what was a perfectly-set-up rhythm. It would have been a beautiful conclusion without those words, or if they’d been at the sentence’s start or maybe if they’d been a stronger tag or beat that added an extra spin to the line. But not that tiny tweak that’s just enough to break the moment.

    First and last lines are the time when that kind of super-precision can bring the story to a new level for the reader.

    (But no pressure, right? 🙂 )

  5. Thanks, some great advice. I still can’t decide whether to open with an action beat or a deeper miniature of the story’s theme, of which I have several candidates. I see the action opening alot, but maybe it’s cliche. Don’t want to lose anyone on the first sentence.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Try them all out, then run them by some betas to see which offers the more compelling hook.

  6. “Usvaldo checked and rechecked, but it was always the same: the piece only provided 8 (and one half) tips, where 9 had been promised. He oscillated between bemusement and litigation.”

    “The lawyer sighed heavily. ‘For the last time, you can’t sue people over blog posts.’ Usvaldo frowned. ‘But it’s the principle of the thing!’
    ‘Two things I have learned in life,’ the lawyer said. ‘Never begin a sentence with a preposition and the only principal to be concerned with is the one that draws interest!'”
    ‘But is not a preposition in that sentence, it is a coordinating conjunction. And principal is not the same as principle.’
    ‘This is why no one likes you,’ the lawyer said as he hung up the phone.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Usvaldo is about as good at observing as Katie is bad with numbers. 😉

      • That’s my opening and closing for my new novel. Think As Good As it Gets, but with a less sympathetic main character…

  7. Brilliant as usual, Katie. Now I’ve got to come up with a better last line. What would I do with out your insight?

  8. Andrewiswriting says:

    Actually, I thought Gone With the Wind and I Told You So had pretty interchangeable first lines, for anyone coming to them the first time (GWtW is only nailed down because everyone in the universe knows who Scarlett is).

    With mine, I’ve got a simple sentence for each, then lead into, or follow after, a busier paragraph.

    Here are mine:
    Abraham Frost – The Cup of Jamshid
    Abraham Frost had never minded the cold.
    He would be ready for him.

    Or, in context:

    Abraham Frost had never minded the cold.
    Most of the other kids knew, but there were still some parents who gave the twelve-year-old in his white cotton polo and grey shorts odd looked as they passed him, rugged up in their scarves and coats against the winter chill. Sydney never really got cold, but mid-August demanded more of most people than short sleeves.

    And the ending:

    He felt the belt Megingjörd around his waist, and he knew Francesca was right, they could defeat him. Perhaps Svarovic might return one day, but if he did, Abe knew something else.
    He would be ready for him.

    I use the same device in the opening of The Tyrant of Arcadia:

    Nobody makes a splash in a billabong quite like an ogre.
    It’s not just the sheer bulk of an ogre, nor its weight. There are much larger creatures that can’t hit the water quite so spectacularly. No, there has to be a degree of athleticism as well, the ability to gain height, or ‘air time’. And then you need to be flexible enough to minimise the entry point so the impact isn’t diffused across too wide an area. It’s almost a science.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yeah, I had that same impulse about Gone With the Wind, but if you go into the book understanding what the title really means it does slant your perception of the book’s beginning.

    • Andrewiswriting says:

      Rasserfrassin’… need an edit function here – they gave him odd looks, not looked!

  9. This is probably one of my worst failings. I think I’m more of a big picture thinker, and I just don’t spend enough time on little details like first and last lines … especially first lines. In my current WIP, At Her Fingertips, the first two sentences are:
    ***
    “Alice Knight sat on a chair in her room with a troublesome little book full of blank pages in her lap. An ink pot sat on the little table before her with a quill pen sticking out of it.”
    ***
    So pretty boring. Not really worth reading on. The first scene is her diary entry, which is probably a bad idea as it’s not extremely exciting to anyone but me.

    The last line is:
    “Peter, I told you to stop talking.”
    In context (please ignore the cheesiness; I know it needs a lot of work):
    ***
    “Peter, if you don’t stop talking I … I think I’m going to have to kiss you.”
    He took a deep breath and swallowed hard. As he stood there watching her, he found that he desperately, desperately wanted to keep talking … and yet he was speechless.
    Alice stood and put her hands on his shoulders. “Peter,” she whispered.
    “I love you,” he murmured.
    “Peter, I told you to stop talking.”
    ***
    Do you think it could be tweaked to work?

  10. I like the idea of having a glimpse of your whole novel right there in the opening. Mine is a work in progress so the opening has already changed several times and could change again, but right now it goes:

    I did not mean to kill the creech. It’s just that I was so hungry, and the creech was right there under my nesting place when I woke up. I could smell it, the spicy scent rising above the damp smell of stone and the faint traces of musky mammoth scent that still clung to my blanket.

    A lot of the story deals with trying (and failing) to do the right thing, so introducing my character in a moment of temptation seemed to me to work thematically and make him relatable. (That last is pretty important since he’s not human.)

    • Maybe there’s too much world building for an opening paragraph. Originally my opening line was going to be “I didn’t mind the chain.” but that led to my character contemplating his life for several pages. But maybe it’s still a stronger first line?

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Ooh, I like that. And you don’t have to explain the chain right away. Let the readers chew on the hook for as long as possible before paying it off.

        • Thanks. So, definitely a stronger hook. 🙂 And here I’ve always found beginnings easier than endings!
          I’m glad the second half of the article is advice on endings, incidentally. They tend to be my weak area. I go on too long. (You may notice I didn’t post my last line. I have the basic mental pictures for my ending down, just not the words… yet.)

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Beginnings and endings are both similar in that we tend to lose the right line amidst the chatter. Sometimes the best approach is to overwrite in the beginning, then pare it back.

  11. I think closers are easier as the general mood I want to leave readers with and best way to tie things up seems more obvious. Openers, however, are another matter. I’ve re-written mine so, so many times and am still not sure if I’m satisfied.

    I actually have a mug covered in famous opening lines from novels which my in-laws game to me one Christmas. I find it quite inspirational and try to use it every morning it’s available when doing my writing 🙂

    I also occasionally will come up with random opening lines completely out of context, which I hope to use for stories in the future, even if only as a jumping off point.

  12. And then, of course, there’s this classic opening line:

    It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out!

    I don’t remember where this was from. I just remember Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse typing it out. The author’s name is on an award for bad fiction.

  13. One Thousand Apologies

    And knowing what I’ve done to you,
    With every thought you suffer through
    My heart as black as evil can
    And everything I could have been,
    Erased by what I wanted then
    I couldn’t think a lesser man

    All the delicate ways
    That I deepened our graves
    My apology pales

    – Demon Hunter

    We buried my cousin last week.

    ‘Bleeping breast cancer.’

    We stood in the middle of the cemetery on a hilltop in western Pennsylvania, the church acrossed the road, a hundred yards to our right. The sun glaring in my eyes, I stared at the tombstone.

    I’ve visualized the ending but have only decided on the closing sentence. He’s resisted his new girlfriend’s invitations to go to church but finally succumbs on Easter Sunday. Later they’re at his house, ready to have dinner with his parents. This is my very first draft.

    Seeing that everyone else was seated I grabbed my fork and reached for the dark meat. Marie extended her arm towards me, fingers fully extended. “We should pray.”

    We never prayed.

    All eyes were on her as she held both arms out. My mother took her right hand while I took her left, soft and warm as always. Mom took Dad’s hand then I hesitantly reached for his other. Our gaze met for an instant before we both looked away. His hand was cold and the callouses scraped my skin. A warmth entered the top of my head, paused, then spread throughout my body. My insides still tingling, I squeezed his hand a little tighter.

    ‘I forgive you.’

  14. M.L. Bull says:

    Great post about opening and closing lines. They all give me ideas for future stories. 🙂

    In my first chapter, I have some pretty good lines, which I think only needs to be rearranged a little. Sometimes it’s the order in which we write sentences that is the problem, not the entire paragraph itself. While going through my novel manuscript, I’ve noticed this, and changing the order of some things have made a big difference in how my novel sounds when it’s read.

    In my ending, I tried to incorporate all the plot events while adding part of a verse from Proverbs 3 in my closing of Wisdom’.

    This is the closing line:

    God’s wisdom, family, true friendship, and the joy felt after going through the toughest of times are all things that can’t be bought with a price. They were priceless, and will always and forever be, more precious than rubies.

    Is this okay?

    I’ve heard and read people say that each book in a series should be like a standalone, and I didn’t want to end it with a cliffhanger.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Sometimes it’s the order in which we write sentences that is the problem, not the entire paragraph itself.” Totally true!

      In regard to your closing line, I would look for something that doesn’t completely spell out the story’s message, something that hints at it but gives readers the space to apply their own knowledge of the story’s journey, so it’s not on the nose.

  15. I’ve heard your first line sells your first book, your last line sells your next book. And I really appreciate writer friends who have challenged me to write better last lines. It’s hard, but so worth it. I know I’ve been let down by reading bad last lines in other people’s books. But the good ones, oh the good ones. They get inside your belly and keep you full for days.

  16. Such an excellent post!

    I love my first sentence for Blackberry Jam:

    “The last day it rained, Emma Gladstone, my second-best friend in the world, stood at the base of my tree house and begged me to drive her to Hainsville.”

    Each bit of the sentence hints at a different part of the plot, and every subplot but one is hinted at (the last one is mentioned in the start of the next sentence). I guess it goes to show that sometimes, you can open with the weather. 🙂

    As for a last sentence, I’m super unhappy with mine right now. But I’m off to go work on it! (sounds better than working on the second-to-last chapter like I should be…) I’ll post here when I’m happy with my revision.

    In the first sentence, Emma wants Blanca to take her to the next town over to buy her a pregnancy test. Right now, I end with the baby’s birth in an epilogue, set about five months after the rest of the novel. (I’m thinking about changing this because the pregnancy really is a subplot.)

    Current last lines:
    “I did it,” she said when I came in. Eden was in her arms, and she angled her my way.
    “I know. And you did an incredible job. She’s perfect.” And she was. I thought I wouldn’t be able to forgive this sweet girl for who her father was, but I could immediately. She was her own person, and she would be wonderful.
    “She’s everything I never knew I wanted,” Emma said.
    I had never held a child in my arms, but I had a feeling I knew exactly what she meant.

    • All right. I flip flopped the two halves of my epilogue (put her meeting the baby first, and a final scene with the MC’s boyfriend last). I managed to write the epilogue in such a way that we go through the elements of the first sentence in reverse order. So now: 1) they drive to Hainsville to meet 2) Emma’s baby, where 3) Blanca (the MC) admits to Emma being her very best friend, and finally, later, 4) Blanca and her boyfriend Daniel walk together at her parents’ new property… in the rain (after a drought that lasted from the second chapter through the second-to-last chapter and ruined her family’s blackberry crops).

      Last sentence now:

      With Daniel holding my hand and the future aligned like the rows of crops on my parents’ new farm, I was caught up in a present whose rain coated the leaves of blackberry bushes that already ached for summer.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I agree: your opening line is awesome. It’s the “second-best friend in the world” bit that pushes it over the top. Excellent use of interesting specificity.

  17. Bravo.
    A post to file in the REM part of my brain and retrieve with each new project.
    Succinct.
    Practical examples.
    The concept of title, first sentence, and last, all delicately intertwined—makes perfect sense.

    I’ve rewritten my WIP’s opening sentence/paragraph:

    Original:

    She drank in the view from the cable car—until it jarred to a halt in mid-air. White-knuckled, she cursed as the car lurched sideways.

    Now:

    She chided herself for lacking in vigilance; unable to get her fill with the view from the cable car—jagged cliffs, the fynbos, her beloved mountain, embraced by an expanse that dropped into a fathomless sea—until they jarred to a halt in mid-air. White-knuckled, she cursed as the car lurched sideways.
    The fog had set in before they got in—it now snaked around the car, obliterating the grand view of the tip of Africa. They were swallowed whole by the indomitable mist.
    “Something’s wrong,” she choked.
    Her companion chuckled as he pressed his nose against the glass panels—as if he could pierce the unfolding whiteness. “That’s why we’ve stopped.”
    “No, Lukas. Somebody made the car stop.”
    Lukas scoffed as he faced her.

    Now I’m wondering—was my original a better hook? (Less “wordy?”)

    Thanks, you did it again, Katie!

    • Joe Long says:

      I like the first one better. Less wordy indeed. I look for the most succinct language that clearly expresses the thought.

      • I like the first one better too- but I love the description of fog in the second. Maybe the second just started a few sentences early?

        • I’ll put the jagged cliffs in the first sentence as a quick bit to set it visually, then add the jagged cliffs (for extra detail) and Africa (for setting) in the second.

          “Her beloved mountain” conveys a familiarity or attachment, but “jagged cliffs” is more visual.

          “Set in” and “got in” in the same sentence – I try to avoid repeating. Perhaps “The fog had been gathering”? (a process)

          She drank in the view of the jagged cliffs from the cable car —until it jarred to a halt in mid-air. White-knuckled, she cursed as the car lurched sideways.

          The fog had been gathering before they got in, and now it snaked around the car, obliterating from sight her grand, beloved mountain at the tip of Africa. They were swallowed whole by the indomitable mist.

          “Something’s wrong,” she choked.

      • Thanks, Joe, Grace & Katie!
        Will chew on it some more!

        • You’re welcome.

          Once I finish pondering a scene and sit down at the computer, most of my time is spent working on phrasing – finding the right words to effectively communicate the thought or image. Sometimes I rewrite a sentence several times before I’m satisfied.

          “Big words” had been recently mentioned here. In my last scene I was searching my mind for the right word, and “perfunctory” popped into my head. I looked it up to make sure, and it was indeed the one I was looking for. Going through the motions, doing just enough to satisfy expectations. It also helped hint at the emotion, that despite her claims to the contrary she was hurting inside. If the reader doesn’t know the word, there’s enough context to guess, or they can look it up and learn a new one.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I like the second better: it immediately immerses me in the story. However, I would consider splitting into two sentences. Also, the second half doesn’t quite make sense to me as worded, since it isn’t an independent clause.

  18. When I said I didn’t have a closing line my brain seems to have taken that as a challenge. (Silly brain.) So now I have one. To give it context, my story is about a goblin creature who was kidnapped by outlaws and is later rescued by the heroes among whom he eventually finds a home. Unfortunately, he has severe Stockholm syndrome for his original kidnappers and spends the first half of the book trying to get back `home’ to captivity. (The midpoint is him figuring out that, no, that’s not what he really wants.) The last scene is back at the outlaws’ cave, after a final battle against them. (With spears and stuff. Not a mental battle- though there’s that too.)

    “I should hate him, hate him, I sh-should… Gar, what’s wrong with me?”
    Gar’s thumb brushed my cheek and I realized it was wet.
    “Here now, little one. There’s no shame grieving the fallen- not even an enemy. They were the closest you had to a family for a long time, weren’t they?”
    My throat tightened. I flung myself on Gar and buried my face in his neck. Gar hugged me back, warm and safe, while all around us the drip of stalactites echoed like falling tears.

  19. My current first line for my WIP is this:

    “Tain was Troubleseeking, again.”

    It introduces my main character, magic system, and is thematic.

  20. Funny thing, a blogger who slated my first book on his blog fully agreed with the last line from the story. There is something to be said for first and last lines.

  21. I know that I really need to work on improving the first and last lines in most of my stories, but I’m satisfied with the first book in my series. In fact I’m kind of proud of the opening line

    Opening line – Luke woke up naked in a bush with a sword pointed at his throat.

    I won’t say the closing sentence, but it’s meant to provide a slight sense of hope.

  22. J.M Barlow says:

    Funny to think of this in terms of a graphic novel – rather than a line, it’s an image. But the elements are almost all the same. Establish setting, show that the pre(o)mise will be fulfilled. Chuck in something thematic, characteristic, and either: ask the reader a question, or make the reader as a question – or both.

    The trouble in a graphic novel is you try to “show, don’t tell” regarding narrative as well. So there may or may not be an opening line. I guess it depends on how good the opening image is. The final image is no different.

    My trilogy WIP that I set aside’s opening line at the time was going to be something along the lines of “This place reminds me of home, and it’s blanket of ashes.” Not sure it applied to the theme of the overarching story well enough, however, but it certainly applied to Book 1’s theme. And at the same time, it is the trilogy’s prologue (Book 3 would have an epilogue – and they go hand-in-hand).

    When I jump back on that project, I’ll have to keep these tips in mind. For now, it gives me something to think about for the graphic novel. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it down – the Volume 1 opening Image matches up with the Closing Image, and also they both line up with the Volume 8 Ending as well..

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I would think it might even be a little easier in a graphic novel. In a narrative story, we’re trying to evoke a complete image in one sentence. But in a graphic story, you’re able to evoke a entire scene in one image. Of course, you still have to come up with the perfect scene. 🙂

      • J.M Barlow says:

        Yeah, that’s the challenge to be sure. And you can’t “quote” an image, either. Well unless there’s words in it, which could very well be the case in the graphic novel opener.

        It’s actually more fun than I thought to try and apply your tips to the graphic novel process. It’s funny that a post about narrative applies to the images. This post certainly reminds me the dire circumstances that revolve around an opening and closing line (and for me, panel).

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Story is story across mediums. It’s just that some of the techniques are “tweaked” for different types of stories.

  23. First lines of Intertwined a short story:

    Grace sat on the patio and lit a cigarette, she took a deep drag and exhaled slowly. The first light of day had begun to show, it had been a long night. She looked down at her hands looking past the dirt she noticed that a few of her manicured nails were broken.

    “I’ll have to trim them all down,” she thought as she poured a glass of Jack and downed it.

    Closing lines:

    Eric, Grace and Sarah went upstairs and put the padlock back on the basement door. When out to Grace’s Honda and drove back to The Backdoor to drop Sarah off at her vehicle.

    Grace got out and gave Sarah a hug. She smiled at Grace and got into her car and drove away.

    Grace and Eric drove home. Eric reached over and squeezed Grace’s hand.

    “I love you,” he said. She smiled and said.

    “I know, I love you too.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ooh, great first line. Excellent job of showing that “all is not well in paradise.”

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  1. […] carries readers through your story. K.M. Weiland gives us 8 1/2 tips for how to write opening and closing lines readers will love to quote, and Jami Gold lists 3 steps to raising story […]

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