Opening Lines


Let’s talk about creative writing competitions.P1180477 How can you give yourself the best chance of being up there with the top entries?

CLUE NUMBER ONE: Deliver an opening line that compels the judge to think, ‘Ah, this is more like it.’

I picked up the following tip from a lesson on the Mslexia website. It said there are three elements we can try to work into our openings — voice, character and conflict. The example given was this:

My mother never….

It’s good, isn’t it, because

  • there’s a voice that might be about to tell us something very interesting;

  • we can relate to a mother-figure (whether good or bad, we don’t know yet);

  • the word ‘never’ implies some conflict to come.

Earlier this year I won my place at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School with a 1000 word story. This is how it began:

Dear Marcus.

That’s how people start letters, isn’t it? My trouble was – I couldn’t bear to put the words ‘Dear’ and ‘Marcus’ side by side.

Voice, character, and conflict. What do you think? Did my opening have all three?


  • Read some winning short stories, and judge for yourself. Which have openings that grab you? Why do they grab you?

  • Google first lines on the internet. Do they all make you want to read on?

  • Write your story without worrying too much about the start. Then go back to the beginning, and work to create a much better opening line.

  • Remember it’s sometimes a case of the simpler, the more striking.

  • Try out a story with the opening line suggested by Mslexia. My mother never….

I’d love to hear how you get on.

P1180507Frog: (Excitedly)

A fresh start, yippee.

Now I think I’m stuck!