They say the best way to become a better writer is to read more — so let’s read a few classic opening lines, and see how they function.
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
— J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Salinger sets up the entire novel in this line; you may not know exactly what’s going to happen, but his mood and style are established with these 63 words. The crux of the intro, though, is the question: who is this kid, and what’s the bee in his bonnet?
Of course, a great opening doesn’t need 60 words. A tenth as many can do the job:
“All this happened, more or less.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
In six words, Vonnegut prepares you to dive into an off-kilter story and provokes a tantalizing question: how do I know what to believe?