5 Tips For Writing A Killer Opening Line

How do you write a killer opening line for your novel? It’s a good question. The first line is very important, it serves as the first impression for your novel, so making sure you have a great one is key to hooking readers in.

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So I’ve put together these 5 quick tips for writing a killer first line for your novel.

1. Display Your Voice
As I said before, the first line of your novel serves as the first impression your reader gets. If it’s your first novel, or at least the first novel of yours a reader has come across, then it may well be your first impression as a writer to that person. It’s vital you display your voice in that opening line.
This is because your voice is what makes your writing unique. Your voice is your fingerprint, your signature. The first line of your novel should say to the reader, “Hey, you! This is what I’m about.”

2. Bait That Hook
If your first page is the hook for your potential readers to get caught on, then your opening line should function as a tasty little baitworm wriggling on that hook.
A great way to do this is to pique their curiosity. Pose a question. Tell your reader that there is something they don’t know. That’s infuriating, knowing that you don’t know something. But guess what? They could know. All they have to do is keep reading and you’ll answer that question.
This is twofold, killing a mating pair of magpies with one well slung rock. Firstly, it makes your reader want to read on and find out exactly what it is they don’t know, or the answer to that opening question. Second, it functions as a promise that there will be many questions to come, that they’ll be kept interested and kept guessing all the way through your novel.

3. Subvert Expectations
The element of surprise is always a thrill, and it is no different in the opening line of a novel. People crave novelty, the unexpected, it is endlessly intriguing to us.
And again, it functions as a promise. This time you’re promising the reader that you’re giving them something new, something they weren’t expecting. No-one wants to read a novel where every turn is expected and every development an obvious one. So tell them in the first line that they have no idea what might happen next.

4. Set Up What’s To Come
You could just tell your reader the whole story in one line. This isn’t a weird way of writing a novel very quickly, it’s a device for generating interest in the rest of your book.
Hopefully your story is more than a surface synopsis, otherwise you have more problems than a first line, so if you can give a vague outline of what’s going to happen, and I mean very, very vague, then the tone for the whole book is set and your reader will simply need to know the details.
Of course, this isn’t always possible, and it certainly isn’t always a good idea. And it’s rarely a good idea to do this if you’re giving away a twist ending, for obvious reasons.

5. Make It Memorable
If you can make your first line memorable then you’re in the money. Imprinting the beginning of your book on a reader’s brain has a great many upsides, not least being the knowledge that you’ve become a part of their psyche.
If someone can pick up your book, read the first line and remember that line weeks later, you’ve sold a book. That person is going to need to read your novel if they can remember your opening line, especially if you’ve used the other tips outlined here.
When trying to write a memorable first line you should strive for a little poetry, dichotomy and/or philosophy. Read it out loud, see if it makes your spine tingle, then you know you’ve got it.

And those were 5 tips for writing a killer opening line for your novel. I hope you found them useful. I’d like to hear from you what some of your favourite opening lines are, so leave them in the comments section below.

And, if it pleases you good sir/madam, keep writing!

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3 Ways Reading Can Improve Your Writing

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Reading as a writer is an essential part of improving your work. Seeing how those before you have crafted their writing and applying the lessons you learn to your own endeavours allows you to stand on the shoulders of giants rather than shiver in their shadows.
But many people find it difficult to make time, between writing and other commitments, to read as much as they should. If that sounds like you then it may benefit you to think about reading less as a thing you do for fun and more as another facet of writing practice.
So, on that note, here are three ways that you can use your reading time to improve your writing.

Absorb The Structure
Even Picasso needed to learn to use a paintbrush, and so every writer must learn how to wield the tools of their trade: the word, the sentence and the scene.
This is the nitty gritty of writing, the craft of the thing. It’s pointless having a story for the ages if you can’t tell it properly. In fact, most writers facing writer’s block are probably having problems with the craft rather than their creativity — they just can’t find the words!
Try this: go to google, type in “fan fiction”, scroll through until you find something truly awful and really read it, paying attention to why it sucks so much. I can save you some time, it’s almost certainly the word choices, sentence structure and scene composition. You see, something that is well written can have a bad story and flat characters and it’ll just be boring. If the craft isn’t there, the down and dirty mechanics of writing, then it’s just going to be offensive.
The great thing is you can absorb the structure of well-written prose simply by reading it. Of course, you have to read a lot of it (but then again if you don’t love reading then it beats me why you would want to write!). You’ll pick up the general structure of the craft very easily without really thinking about it, although it is always worth having a book or two on the intricacies of the craft so you can improve more quickly.

Learn The Tropes
What is your genre?  Most writers stick to a small number of genres for the majority of their careers, so it is important to understand exactly what your genre is.
Obviously you can name your genre, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean by knowing your genre is knowing the tropes and iconography your genre uses, in essence the building blocks of what makes a story fit into that genre.
For instance, the horror genre can count amongst its tropes the haunted house, characters being cut off from civilisation and supernatural beings seeking revenge on the living. There are, of course, thousands upon thousands more.
Knowing the tropes of your genre is very important when writing genre fiction, even if you decide not to use them or to subvert them. Seeing them used will help you to understand not only what the tropes are, but also what purpose they serve and why they are so often employed so as to become tropes. This can only help you improve your genre writing.

Find Your Voice
No matter how good your plot and how interesting your characters, it is your voice that carries your writing.
Every great writer has their own unique voice. You know without looking at the cover exactly who wrote the book. That’s a huge part of the appeal of those big name writers. In order for you to really master this craft you must find your unique voice to give your readers a reason to keep coming back for more.
One writer with an unmistakable voice was Douglas Adams. Any of you that have read anything by him would be able to identify immediately a line from one of his novels, not by memory but by voice. That’s what you should strive for, because it makes you irreplaceable.
Reading books by a variety of authors, both well known and otherwise, will expose you to the different ways writers achieve their voice. Your voice will come naturally and develop with you, but if the refinement is through writing then the mining is through reading.

And those right there are just three (of many) ways that reading can improve your writing. What lessons have you taken from reading other authors that you have applied to your writing? Leave a comment below.

And — as though I need say it — keep writing.

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4 Techniques For Naming Your Characters

Naming your characters is a very important step in any story. The name you give a character can influence the way a reader pictures them, the type of character the reader thinks they’ll be and, of course, if that character is remembered long after the story is finished. Harry Potter, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Artemis Fowl — these are all great names for different reasons.

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These are not so great...

The problem is, naming your characters can be deceptively difficult. We’ve all sat there, trying to think of a cool name for an slick-tongued space-rogue or an inexplicably adventurous archeologist, only to come up with such gems as “Jack Smith” or “Jane Nondescript”. I haven’t got the data to back it up, but I’m almost certain the human brain only has the capacity for 5 names of people that aren’t currently breathing your air.
In the interest of saving your sanity, I’ve put together four techniques for generating character names for you to use:

1. Try ‘Name-Farming’
Any time you hear or read a name that jumps out at you or evokes some kind of feeling, write it down. It helps if you carry a notepad, as all writers should anyway. Be especially aware when reading newspapers or online articles, when credits come on at the end of a film or tv show and even things as simple as radio shows with listeners phoning in. Then, jot it down and when it comes to naming a character later on you already have a list of great names to use.
For instance, I just took a look at the BBC News website and spent five minutes looking around, clicking on random articles and scanning them for names. The best I found was “Fergus Walsh”, an excellent name if I ever decide to write a novel about a stoic farmer who loses his beloved tractor and uses that loss to finally access his emotional core and reconnect with his estranged wife.
The great thing about this technique is that you can do it all the time without making much effort. You don’t need to go looking for the names, just jot down the good ones for later use as you encounter them doing what you’d normally do. It’s also an inexhaustible resource of at least semi-decent names, as there are always more articles to read with names in them and, presumably, most people have had at least a little thought put into their names by their parents.
You do have to get into a habit of writing down the names, which is a stumbling block for some, and there is also the distinct possibility that you write down the name of someone who, unbeknownst to you, is actually very, very famous. You don’t want to name your arch-villain “Barack Obama” and not realise your mistake until later.

2. Take Names From Your Childhood
Everybody remembers that kid at your school who just had the coolest name. Don’t be shy about appropriating it. It’s not just your friends either, it could be anyone whose name you can remember from your school days, including students, teachers, even lunchladies or your friend’s mum.
Taking two memorable names from my school days I came up with “Philippa Hillyard”, a bouncy young lass in a sundress who’s only too happy to show you the way to the village fair.
The great thing about this is if you can remember someone’s name from when you were much younger, then you already know that it’s a memorable name! This is especially true if the person whose name you remember was someone you barely knew or had only heard of in passing, as that means all you’re remembering is the name.
However, be careful about using people’s names without permission. It’s fine to use a given name or a surname without asking, as long as the character isn’t very similar to the real person. It is entirely inadvisable to use a full name of someone you went to school with, as you could open yourself up to legal action.

3. Visit Baby Name Websites
What better way to generate names than to go to a website specifically designed to deliver you names? Do a quick search for baby name websites and try a few out, but my favourite is Nameberry.com because of the advanced search feature. You can specify age, gender, number of syllables, what the name ends in and I’m sure other features I’ve never bothered using. You could also use a good old-fashioned baby name book, but print media is severly lacking in search functionality these days.
A quick search for ‘gift’ in name meanings gave me “Dottie”, who I imagine to be a giving, kind Christian lady who is very humble and very devout. ‘Joy’ gave me “Allegra”, who I imagine is the woman sleeping with Dottie’s husband while she’s at Sunday service.
This method allows you to add subtext to your character names if you like that sort of thing, but the most useful thing for me is using advanced search tools to get exactly the kind of names I’m looking for.
However, this technique only really works for given names. Also, unless your search skills are up to scratch you can end up wading through a lot of terrible names before finding the gem in the rough.

4. Make Your Own
But who needs all this searching? Any word can be a name if you that’s what you call someone! Obviously most words don’t sound much like names, but there are methods of making words that do. You could simply combine fragments of two different names to come up with a new one. Surnames are even easier, you can add “-son”, “-man” or “-berg” to pretty much any noun to make a surname that sounds plausible, or add “-er” to pretty much any verb. Job names, especially traditional ones, often make excellent surnames.
I came up with one full name by combing fragments of other names (“Fergen Wailey”), a surname (“Mirrorberg”) by adding “-berg” to a random item I could see, and another surname (“Wiggler”) by adding “-er” to the only thing I could be immediately bothered to do.
This technique can really bring you some truly unique names, which is especially great for scifi and fantasy writers. I mean, no-one wants to name a bloodthirsty Orc “Roy”, do they?
On the other hand, this is the most difficult technique as it requires you to engage more heavily with your creativity. You also run the risk of producing names that only you have any idea how to pronounce, which is very jarring for a reader. Also, you run the risk of coming up with names like “Fergen Wailey”. Maybe he’s a gnomish bard.

So there we have it, four techniques for generating character names. Did you employ one of these techniques and come up with a genius character name? If so, post it in a comment below.

And even if you’re stuck using “Fergen Wailey” for your first draft, keep writing.

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