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canstockphoto18799595Hey JC,

How does this sound for a kick ass opening sentence for my book: “The terrified onlookers huddled together beyond the outlying perimeter fence and looked up at the treacherous military drones pointed down at them, operated by a government that was now corrupt and malevolent.”   

My writer’s group really criticized it but I thought it was a great kick-off to the story. It has action and fear, and it sets up what’s going on in the story to follow. It’s the kind of memorable opening sentence that makes you want to keep reading. I’m only asking because I found your post on Google about opening sentences.

So what do you think? Any advice?

Knock ’em Dead with the First Line

Dear Knock ’em Dead,

Thanks for reading “Some attention grabbing, knock ’em dead first lines.” Although that article was about memorable first lines, I don’t believe every book must have a memorable first line. Sometimes a book just needs an attention grabbing opening scene. Something is unfolding in the first few paragraphs that grabs the reader. Without a doubt, you’re on the right track. This opening scene has fear and suspense and drama. The problem is that it’s all squeezed and packaged into the opening line.

In fact, there’s too much going on and it’s telling me the story, not showing me. I don’t feel the terror the onlookers feel. I’m not yet disillusioned by a corrupt and malevolent government.I don’t understand the treachery of the drones — which is kind of a human attribution assigned to a piece of military hardware.

There’s another problem: the opening line is blatantly telling me what to feel. Right off the bat, the word choice is telling me I’m supposed to feel sympathy for some huddled onlookers. I’m supposed to know (and agree) that the government is bad. I’m supposed to believe the drone is treacherous. The adjectives are working against the story telling.

Don’t rob me of the experience of reading your book. I want to feel all these emotions as the plot unfolds. Give me that “Oh, my God! I can’t believe he just did that” moment when I learn that drone is not the cute, loving military machinery I thought it was. That really sucks for the reader.

I suggest taking one character in the huddled onlookers — hopefully one of the central characters of the book — and having him or her look up at the drone. Let the reader see what that character sees and feel what that character feels. You won’t have to state it’s “treacherous” or “intimidating” or even “terrifying.” The reader will know that through the eyes and emotions of your main character.

Next describe the surroundings. Who are these huddled onlookers. Why are they beyond the outlying perimeter fence? How many are there? If there are government personnel on scene, let their actions show me that they are “corrupt and malevolent.” Give me that “I can’t believe that just happened” moment.

Good luck and keep writing,


Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Knock ’em Dead’s problem?

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