Blog 12: Opening and Closing Lines.

April 19, 2016

Whatever you’re writing, whether it be a novel, an article, or even a letter, the opening and closing lines are crucial.

As an author, I would say that both your opening line and closing line are equally important. Why? Because the opening line will be the first thing your reader will read, and they will subconsciously judge the rest of your written piece based on that one sentence, and by that logic, the closing line will be the last thing that your reader will read, and the one line they are most likely to remember when discussing your book with friends and family.

Don’t believe me? Well I can tell you that I experienced the former just last week. I was scrolling through a list of potential books, all of which displayed the opening paragraphs for you to read in the hopes that you’d then buy the book. After going through dozens of books, my attention was snagged by one in particular, just because it’s opening lines made me laugh…

‘My day really began the moment the I Am Phantommen shot at me. To set the record straight, it wasn’t my usual idea of fun.’ – I Am Phantom, Chapter One, by Sean Fletcher.

Needless to say I bought the book, read it and then reviewed it, and it was all because of it’s opening. Time is of value these days and most people will skim through books until something grabs their attention. I scrolled past lots of other books and they could have been good books too, but they just didn’t intrigue me enough to make me want to read them. You can write a fantastic book, but if the opening is mediocre then you’re going to lose potential readers. With most ebooks allowing you to see the first few pages, or even offering a sample chapter, the opening line has never been more important. There is so much competition, you need to make sure that your work stands out.

This got me thinking why certain opening lines work so well? I wondered if perhaps any of my past favourite books had opening lines that had captured me, pulled me in, and refused to let me go until I had reached the last page. Naturally I raided my bookshelves, pulled out my favourites and re-read the opening lines, and this is what I found…

‘I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learned to live with it.’ – Warm Bodies, Chapter One, by Isaac Marion.

The opening lines for Warm Bodies immediately grabs the reader’s attention. Who is dead? How can they live with it? How does that juxtaposition work? You’re led to ask questions that hopefully you want to find the answers to, so you keep reading.

‘On the day we’re the last people to see indie kid Finn alive, we’re sprawled together in the Field, talking about love and stomachs.’ –The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Chapter One, by Patrick Ness.

The opening line for The Rest of Us Just Live Here sparks questions too, who is Finn? Why does he die?

‘The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.’ –An Abundance of Katherines, Chapter One, by John Green.

One guy dumped nineteen times, and he’s just graduated from high school? This guy is obviously terrible at relationships,  and who is Katherine? An Abundance of Katherines’ opening line evokes sympathy for Colin but again, more questions. It seems odd to me that a guy would be dumped so many times in the first place, and I don’t know about you, but that made me curious enough to want to find out more about Colin Singleton.

From what I have read, an opening line needs to be a mixture of things. They can be humorous, spark questions, and they can be mind-boggling strange. Anything that makes the reader look twice and think will most likely be a winner. Opening lines should also be clear, true, and somehow compact the entire novel into just one sentence (or two). This seems like an impossible feat, but I advise you to give it a go and practice, practice, practice.

At the other end of the novel, closing lines may not be there to hook your readers (although sometimes they do), they are there to give your reader closure and round off your story into one sentence (or two). I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen readers complain about the ending to a novel (mainly cliffhangers), but also just because of poorly written endings. Your last line needs thought, it needs to leave your readers feeling satisfied and contented. The last thing you want to do is to leave your readers confused, upset or even angry right at the end of your book.

One of my favourite closing lines is at the end of The Fault In Our Stars, written by John Green. It won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the film, but the closing lines are incredibly powerful. They are metaphorical and leave the reader feeling a strange sort of happy-sad.

‘I do, Augustus. I do.’ – The Fault In Our Stars, Chapter Twenty Five, by John Green.

Closing lines do not have to be complicated, but they do need to pack a punch. Again they need to be clear and true, and yet somehow round off the entire novel. A lot of authors write closing lines which have a deep and metaphorical meaning, but this isn’t a necessary requirement, a humorous ending can be just as effective. It really depends on your story, but keep this in mind, if you have a great ending your readers are more likely to quote your ending lines to their friends and families, and you may end up with more readers.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it useful. What are your favourite opening and closing lines? Let me know by leaving a comment below!