Updated: Sep 9, 2022
As a writer, you understand the power of first impressions. When a reader, publisher, or editor opens your book for the first time and starts reading it, it needs to be memorable and strong. That means the first couple of paragraphs of your novel can make or break you. This is why you should think twice before you write those opening lines.
If you’re not sure how to write the first paragraphs of your novel, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best strategies you can use in your novel to ensure it has a winning opening.
1. Introduce a Character
You want to ensure something’s happening in your novel from the very beginning.
It’s always better to be direct and get straight to the point, instead of setting the scene slowly or opening with something static.
Here’s the opening paragraph from Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove:
“Ove is fifty-nine. He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a medium-sized white box at him.”
The opening gives you a hint that the main character is a grumpy old man, and tells you this novel is going to make you laugh.
2. Entice Curiosity
The opening paragraphs of your book should make the readers start wondering and asking questions as they read.
The Dry by Jane Harper uses this strategy to catch the readers’ attention:
“Even those who didn’t darken the door of the church from one Christmas to the next could tell there would be more mourners than seats. A bottleneck of black and grey was already forming at the entrance as Aaron Falk drove up, trailing a cloud of dust and cracked leaves.”
This makes the readers want to ask:
Who’s Aaron Falk?
Does he have anything to do with this death?
What’s going to happen next?
These unanswered questions will make the readers continue reading and will win them over within seconds.
3. Introduce a Mystery
Another great way to start your novel is to introduce a mystery.
A mysterious setting, event, or character can build the suspense you need to keep the readers interested.
Donato Carrisi starts his novel The Whisperer with a mysterious letter:
“Dear Mr. Marin, I wish to inform you about the strange case of one of our inmates. The individual in question is prisoner number RK-357/9. We can only refer to him in this way since he has consistently refused to supply his personal information. His arrest occurred on 22 October. The man was wandering at night – alone and naked – along a country road near the town of....”
The letter is announcing a mysterious drama and tells the readers exactly what to expect from the novel. It’s intriguing, attention-grabbing, and entertaining.
“Mysteries will help you build up the energy and give readers a way to dig deep into the story. This will keep them amused and interested, which is exactly what you need,” says Kristin Savage, the head of writers at Trust My Paper and Top Essay Writing.
4. Set The Mood
It’s very important that the first paragraphs hit the right button with your audience and have them feel the way you intended. This is why you have to get creative and set the mood the right way
Here’s what Sophie Kinsella did with the opening of Can You Keep a Secret?:
“Of course I have secrets. Of course I do. Everyone has a few secrets. It’s completely normal. I’m not talking about big, earth-shattering secrets. Not the-president-is-planning-to-bomb-Japan-and-only-Will-Smith-can-save-the-world type secrets. Just normal, everyday little secrets.”
You can immediately see that the novel is going to be funny, entertaining, and light. It will click with your target audience and help them make the right judgment call.
5. Announce an Event
Events are another powerful tool for winning your audience over at the very opening of your novel. Announcing an event will give the readers something to look forward to.
Susan Collins use this technique in the first paragraph of The Hunger Games:
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.”
She announces this unknown event, building suspense and mystery around it. The readers have no choice but to continue reading and see what’s going to happen next.
6. Set the Time & Space
To help the readers connect with your novel, you need to give them the details to help them create images in their minds.
The time and space are the pieces of the puzzle they'll need to start living the novel instead of just reading it.
You can do it just like George Orwell in his novel 1984:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
Tell them when and where and they’ll be a part of your story before they even realize it.
As you can see, there are several different strategies you can use to ensure your novel has a brilliant opening. The first couple of paragraphs are the most important ones for your readers which is why you have to make them outstanding.
Use the tips listed above as inspiration or a starting point for your next novel. Make sure you’ve got your opening paragraphs just right.
About the author: Bridgette Hernandez is a freelance writer and a blogger with years of experience covering versatile topics. She’s an expert on helping her readers boost their writing process, nurture creativity, and grow as artists. She currently works as a writer at Grab My Essay and Classy Essay. She’s also an editor at Supreme Dissertations and Best Essays Education.