Begin at the Beginning, They Say

By Megan Mahoney

September 8, 2020

Beginnings are never easy—not in life and not in writing, either. Just as different times in life will require different modes of beginning, different mindsets and different practices, different pieces of writing will require different styles of beginnings. And the beginning is often one of the hardest parts of a work. They’re such weighty things, first lines. So how do you get them just right?

I had a friend who would write a paragraph about pink ponies before he started anything at all, just so he wasn’t trying to get words out on an empty page. If the weightiness of the first words bothers you, this might be a tactic to try. Pick anything, as long it’s not particularly important, and write about that. It’ll get you started, and it’ll conquer the fear of the blank page.

Shorter is often better with opening lines, I’ve found. If an opening sentence has too many winding clauses and piles of conjunctions heaped upon each other, it’s easy to lose the reader, no matter the genre. There are exceptions, of course, as there are exceptions to every rule, but overall, if you’re struggling with your opening lines, try making them short and direct. 

Strong images and comparisons are also a great place to start. Contradictions do well too. Anything, really, that makes a reader stop short in their tracks and go, “wow!” If you’re at a loss for ideas, try opening your favorite book or taking a glance at your favorite poem to get inspired. See what other authors have done, and notice what works and what doesn’t.

For me, it always helps to remember that first lines often change a lot with the drafts. I edit my first lines a lot, because I know that I have to make them count, both in terms of style and themes, and those themes often evolve as I write and revise. It’s hard for me to remember that, because I’m such a perfectionist, but trying to keep that in mind helps!

Do you have any tips for your beginnings? What are some first lines you’ve written that you’re proud of? What are some openings that you’ve been inspired by?

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