KNOWHOW to Open a Story: First Lines



What are the essential elements of a killer story opening? In the first of this series, Emily Randall looks at the importance of fabulous first lines.

To begin at the beginning… 

Get yourself a cracker of a first line. Easily said and harder accomplished, but as well as serving as an immediate attention grabber for discerning readers, agents and publishers, your opening line can be the lodestar that guides you back on track whenever your story obstinately veers off course.  

In theatre, the phrase ‘springboard sentence’ is used in accent teaching. It’s a sentence that brings you back into the accent when you’ve lost your way. What if we thought of our opening image like this; a reminder of the story you started when you’re navigating a soggy middle or an undercooked end and need to be brought back to your original idea?

Many of us know the classics: I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ and ‘Marley was dead: to begin with’, but take a look at some more of these more recent bangers:


Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray

The City was built on a sharp mountain that jutted improbably from the sea, and the sea kept trying to claim it back.

The Vanishing Trick by Jenni Spangler 

It wasn’t a sin to steal if you only took forgotten things.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.


As well as being stunning, each of these lines represent the rest of the book, in tone, subject and style.


Take a look at the first line of your story. As well as wondering if it’ll catch the eye of those in the know, why not ask yourself if the rest of your story matches it?

Does your opening line reflect the ongoing voice, authorial or character? Have you stuck to the heart of your tale, or have you wandered off in a totally bizarre direction, unrelated to how you started? 

Remember, the first image isn’t just important for the reader, it’s essential for the writer, too. It’s your springboard sentence.


Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash 

Emily has been an actor, an historical interpreter and has worked for the National Trust. She lives on the outskirts of London and juggles writing with raising two small loud people. Her current WIP recently won the 2020 Mslexia Children's & YA Novel Competition. 


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