The power of a well-executed opening line

Gawker recently announced new Kinja initiatives, which takes user interactions with media content to the next level. Users can take an existing story and reframe it to their liking, by changing the photo, or the headline, or the lede of the article. It’s a great example of experimentation in user generated content and further blurring the line between writer and audience.

It might also blur the impact of the journalism, though, and twist content in non-desired ways. Writing the perfect headline and opening lines is, after all, an art form. It got me thinking about the recent set of articles in Atlantic, about the emphasis writers have on writing the perfect opening lines (for novels, but it’s of the same importance for journalism).

It started with this article about Stephen King and how he obsesses over the perfect first line. Later, it inspired a follow-up piece where famous authors are asked about their favorite opening lines for novels. Slate talked about it in their Culture Gabfest, highlighting some of their own favorites.

I think the key imperative is to draw the reader in, and get them hooked. So some of the ones listed I don’t agree with, even if they are good at establishing a key character in a few economic lines.

My own personal favorite is probably: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful” (from Underworld by Don DeLillo). It might not be perfect in drawing the reader into action straight away, but it serves as a perfect introduction to the theme of the book, and its wondrous use of language.


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