I have to think that the opening sentence of a story or essay is the hardest of all to write. When I taught Freshman Composition, I would remind my students not to get too hung up on their first line. I'd tell them to write something, anything, and just get on with it. One could always come back later. Indeed, later often proved to be the only way to get that first sentence to work--after all the rest of the writing had been done. One finally had context. The ending of things, as it were, provided the beginning.
The same is often true in academic writing when trying to write an introduction. One wants it to be snappy, intriguing: you want it to grab the reader's attention. I was told, and have often read this same advice from others, to leave off writing one's introduction until the end. A Google search on purpose of introduction provides a plethora of advice, most of it rather dry, though all stating pretty much the same thing: "The purpose of the introduction is to orient your reader and create interest in the paper." [Source]
Opening lines in fiction, while sharing the same goal of capturing the reader, require stronger stuff.
"Call me Ishmael" (Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851)
”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859)
"I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story." (Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome, 1911)
"It was a pleasure to burn." (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1953)
"Usually involves a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. In a closed circle of suspects, each suspect must have a credible motive and a reasonable opportunity for committing the crime. The central character must be a detective who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts fairly presented to the reader. This classic structure is the basis for hundreds of variations on the form."
My variation has two central character detectives, one a Map Librarian and the other a female Chief of Campus Police. It is an academic mystery. (They say to write what you know and this is so much my world that the world building is a snap though the story itself and the characters and their development are as challenging to write as any other kind of good writing.)
* For more on Palmer's approach, see this panel discussion transcript: "Fiction and History: Narratives, Contexts and Imagination", by Ada Palmer, Jane Dailey, Ghenwa Hayek, Paola Iovene, David Perry. Chicago Journal of History, Spring 2017
- An illustration from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick
- Fountain pen on handwritten letter
- Woman detective
- Africa - Namibia Landscape
Book cover images from Amazon or Goodreads.