Keep Them Listening

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” What in the world? What does that mean? How did she explode? Did she slowly blow up into a round ball like Violet Beauregard and then pop? Or was it more violent than that? There are just so many questions! That is the beauty of that opening line by Iain Banks’ novel The Crow Road. How in the world are you going to put that book down after reading that sentence? You have to go on.
As an English major in college I took multiple classes in Creative Writing. In all of them, the importance of the beginning of short story or novel was a topic that came up in every class. It can hook your readers and bring them tumbling directly into your story. You don’t have long to convince a reader that they should stick with you for the duration. Many people make a decision if they will buy a book based off what they can scan through on the first page and on the back cover.
In one of these classes, I distinctly remember spending the majority of a class period, almost an entire hour, just discussing the opening line. The teacher stressed how easy it is to lose a reader in beginning of a story. But she also stressed how you can immediately hook a reader with an opening line, which will then carry them far enough into the story for you to develop your characters and plots – and really sing your claws into them. I’ve included some great opening lines for you below to enjoy:
It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)
It was a pleasure to burn. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. —David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System (1987)
Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. —J. G. Ballard, Crash (1973)
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. —Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
It is not much of a jump to take this concept and apply to the sales world and our initial impact on a prospect, but I encourage you to take it and apply it elsewhere as well. Pitching an idea to your boss? Writing an important email or memo? Negotiating a raise? Rolling out a change you know will be unpopular? You need to get people interested in your story, and you need to get them interested fast. Take the time to craft a knockout opening, and you will have the audience still with you when get to the meat of your communication. If you lose them too early then payoff remains buried.
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