What do you remember most about the books and articles you love most? Is it a memorable quote? Or is it how that first sentence drew you in, making you want to read more.
They, whoever the hell that is, say the first sentence is the most important part of a story, whether it’s a book, a short story or an article. It’s why journalists agonize over their ledes on their most important articles. And it’s why we see articles about the best 100 opening sentences to books.
Some of my favorite books are on the list, although I don’t know if I’d classify the opening line to “The Great Gatsby” as one of the best ever. It wasn’t what drew me into the story and made me want to read it. OK, it was my high school English class, but that line wasn’t what kept me reading. But there are others on the list I really like. The opening line to “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is a great one, for example.
And some timeless ones like the opening line to “Moby Dick” and “Anna Karenina.” The Bible is also on the list, although I didn’t spot “A Tale of Two Cities” on the list. My father forever has called the opening to “A Tale of Two Cities” as one of the best he’s ever read.
What are your thoughts on the list? Is something missing or did they cover the best ones? Is your favorite opening line on the list?
But every story needs an ending too, right? And there’s a similar list of the closing lines of books. I do agree with “The Great Gatsby” being included on this particular list. There are some repeats on the list. The key to a good ending is leaving your reader wanting more.
I know as a journalist I struggle with endings. We typically are told to “write until it’s done” when doing an article. And we write in the inverted pyramid style. Journalists don’t expect people to get to the end of the article, especially in today’s electronic age and how people read today. We excel at openings and ledes.
What’s your strategy for writing the perfect opening and ending? How do you fill the story between?