“I cut my bangs with some rusty kitchen scissors…”
Those are the very first words of the Miranda Lambert song, Mama’s Broken Heart. Every single time I hear it, I’m like, “I can totally see that girl. I know who that is. I know what she’s feeling, where she’s probably going, and who she’s after.” And it’s not because I’ve ever been there or done that.
It’s one of my favorite openings ever because less than ten words in and you have to know the rest of the story.
And then I sit there, awestruck, and try to come up with my own attention grabbing openings. It’s really tough, y’all. 😉
I think to accomplish a great opening line, it helps to identify your strength. What do you feel most confident about in your writing? What gives you that thrill inside when you’re in your zone? Are you great at Dialogue, Characters, Emotion, Action, Grief, Humor, Mystery? Whatever it is, make that the primary focus of the first words on your page. Or answer this question: What is something you’ve seen in your lifetime that you’ve never ever forgotten? Something that you can close your eyes and even though it may have happened when you were a kid, it’s still very familiar and still means something to you?
My strength, for example, is dark emotion. Usually, the first bits I get of stories are these little emotional hits. Here are a couple rough openings I’ve come up with and keep in my files for upcoming stories:
“Death had coddled my babies and nursed my gram and pops.”
“He saves his tears for his brothers.”
And here are a couple of my favorite book openings:
My brother, Orrin Sackett, was big enough to fight bears with a switch. Opening line from Louis L’Amour’s The Daybreakers.
(Y’all, I’m not kidding, “Mama’s Broken Heart” just started playing on the radio as I’m typing this.)
“But mother is always dying.” Opening line from Lauraine Snelling’s On Hummingbird Wings.
What are some of your favorite first lines, whether from a song or a book or a poem?
For the writers out there, do you have a particular opening of your own you’d like to share with us? How do you decide the very first words to your stories?
Were you by chance curious to know how that Miranda song ends?
…Well, this ain’t my mama’s broken heart...
24 thoughts on “A Killer Beginning”
“I had to keep my mother out of my uterus.” My opening line from Mother Nature’s Man. Fertility is Mother Nature’s business and she has to have a child to save the world. No pressure. BTW my daughter loves Miranda Lambert. I must hear that song once a day.
Oh. My. Gosh. Serious chills Mary Jo. I love your opening line. Because even though you’re talking about forces bigger than the average human reader will encounter on a daily basis, I’m sure tons of women have felt that way. What a great way to say, Hey mom, stay out of my business. Thank you so much for sharing that! Give your daughter a fishy shout out for me. She has great taste in music 🙂
Wow, I’d buy that book in an instant, Mary Jo. Is it coming out soon?
It came out in January. Thanks for asking!
Great post, Carlene-Mermaid! Wish I was at home where my books live so I could give you a bunch of great opening lines. But alas, I’m at day job. I do tend to love opening lines from Kristan HIggins, Jill Shalvis and Darynda Jones though.
Thank you Kerri-Mermaid! Your books are very lucky to live where they live and I’m sure they’re filled with awesome opening lines. I know I still think dreamily about Callahan O’Shea who had some awesome lines indeed, thank you Ms. Higgins.
Have a great day at work!
The storm ripped over the mountains, gushing torrents of rain that struck the ground with the sharp ring of metal on stone. Lightning strikes spat down, angry artillery fire that slammed against the cannon roar of thunder. There was a gleeful kind of mean in the air, a sizzle of temper and spite that boiled with power. It suited Malory Prices mood perfectly.
From Nora Roberts Key of Light. Great post Carlene!
Bazinga! I think with Malory in a mood like that, we need to hide the rusty kitchen scissors and anything else sharp in the vicinity!
I’ll give you mine, too, From The Spy in the Mirror:
Someone ate my comment…darn little pesky pond critters…I was saying that you, Diana-Mermaid, have a knack for the mysterious side of things. So much can happen in eleven minutes! Awesome!
Right off the bat, Nicole knew her inheritance needed fifty grand in repairs. Or a stick of dynamite and a blasting permit.
whoops, forgot to say, that’s from my WIP. Here’s another (also unpublished):
Cotton candy was not a hair product.
Susan-Mermaid…right off the bat, if Nicole’s inheritance needs fifty grand in repairs, I’m wondering what else in this poor girl’s life is about to come crumbling down! I’d say that’s some good foreshadowing fishy sister.
But how fun would that be if it were? I’m biting that cotton candy line… xoxo
Carlene, I loved this subject and the opening lines you are saving for upcoming stories. I have a favorite scene in my memory from when I was 13 and mom took me to her house for the first time and I met my younger siblings also for the first time. I go there in my mind whenever I need to cheer myself. I will tell you it someday. Meanwhile, did you even know Louis L’amour was your Grandma Grace’s favorite author?
Hi Aunt Terry! I will love to hear that someday. I did not know that was Grandma’s favorite author, that is very cool!
That is a killer opening line. Love it.
🙂 It’s a definite goody Avery-Mermaid!
Carlene – I listened to Miranda’s song on the radio last night and thought it was so well written, I needed to post a link to its YouTube video on Facebook. Think I’ll share your blog post instead!
Thanks for the reminder that opening lines are crucial!
Hi Keely! That is awesome 🙂 You know, I love music and there are tons of songs I could go on and on about but this one, it just yanks you by the pony tail and says, “Sit down and listen up!” And thank you for the Facebook love 🙂
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Love the immediate conflict.
Me too! Thank you for for stopping by and sharing Anna! Love you
Three things happened simultaneously: the soft, warm curve of a woman’s bare ass tucked enticingly against Zakary Stark’s good-morning-happy-to-feel-you erection, the familiar gut-wrenching realization that she was the wrong woman, and the cold hard metal of a gun barrel pressed to his temple.”
Excerpt From: Adair, Cherry. “Hush.” Pocket Star Books, 2011. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.
Check out this book on the iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hush/id386011244?mt=11
My iBook app won’t let me comment in the post above, but I like this opening a whole lot…I know it’s long, but it works for me. Great post Mermaid Carlene.
Hi Denny-Mermaid! Long is sometimes just right, as in this scalding opening from Ms. Adair. Nice, nice, nice 🙂
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