The beginning

Authors need to set a strong scene in the opening sentence. Debut authors don’t have the luxury of beginning with a long and languorous description, such as a backstory, memory or reflections.

Your opening page needs to give the reader a sense of where, when and what is going on.

And you need to create some sense of dilemma.

Grab the reader as fast as you can and hold onto them.

Place your character in a specific setting (the reader needs to picture them).

Add something sensory/unusual that your character notes.

Perhaps begin in the middle of the specific incident, from where the character can’t turn back and the dilemma is obvious.

Keep the text active, no passive verbs (was, weren’t, etc), use specific nouns so that the reader knows who is being written about, and don’t be vague.

The best openers are unusual, emotional and lead to a pertinent incident.

Some of my favourite first lines:

“The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake.”

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

“They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.”

Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

“At the age of five, Gustav Perle was certain of only one thing: he loved his mother.”

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

“So here I am, upside down in a woman.”

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

“He made his way through the concourse and stopped by a window to watch a man with two orange wands wave a jet into its gate.”

About Grace by Anthony Doerr

“When Irina Bazili began working at Lark House in 2010, she was twenty-three years old but already had few illusions about life.”

The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende

“Maribeth Klein was working late, waiting to sign off on the final page proofs of the December issue, when she had a heart attack.”

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

“When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst.”

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

“My first act on entering this world was to kill my mother.”

The New Confessions by William Boyd

“It takes three men to pull the body from the water.”

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

“Mother Catherine knew the devil.”

Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop

“When I was fourteen my mother told me there was no such thing as unconditional love.”

What Girls are Made of by Elana K. Arnold

“On this day, which is the ninth day of November in the year 1683, a most singular thing occurred.”

Merivel by Rose Tremain

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

Back When We were Grownups by Anne Tyler

“The overcooked eggs were not so much sunny-side up as misery-side down.”

Who Killed Anne-Marie? By CM Thompson

“According to family legend, Ferguson’s grandfather departed on foot from his native city of Minsk with one hundred roubles sewn into the lining of his jacket, travelled west to Hamburg through Warsaw and Berlin, and then booked passage on a ship called The Empress of China, which crossed the Atlantic in rough winter storms and sailed into New York harbour on the first day of the twentieth century.”

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster