Good Examples of Narrative Leads

Good Examples of Narrative Leads

Think about your favorite books. Why do you start and continue reading them? Narrative leads are the openings of stories, the "hooks" that capture readers and keep them turning the pages. There is no set formula for creating a lead, since narratives span the spectrum of human existence. However, numerous guides are available, with some good examples for beginning writers to follow.

1 Some References for Narrative Leads

"Once Upon a Time: 100 Great Opening Lines to Great Novels" by Tim Taaffe is an excellent source for the most select examples of narrative leads. Another, heftier volume of examples is Hans Bauer's "In the Beginning," which holds 500 examples arranged by book title. Georgianne Ensign's "Great Beginnings and Endings: Opening and Closing Lines from Great Novels" offers not only some spectacular openers but also the closers for readers. Within the Ensign text, readers can see where narrative leads go from the beginning to the end of the novels.

2 Narrative Leads in Dialogue

Narrative leads are created in three ways: through dialogue-narration, through action or through imagery. Great openings in dialogue-narration would include Melville's "Moby Dick" with "Call me Ishmael," a phrase that gives the reader a sense of unease about the narrator. Another is Douglas Fairbarne's "Shoot," which opens with "This is what happened," as compelling as "once upon a time." A Shakespearean play sometimes combines two techniques, as in "Twelfth Night," where Orsino's dialogue also imparts imagery -- "If music be the food of love, play on."

3 Narrative Leads in Action

Narrative leads using action shove the reader right into the tale: "A screaming comes across the sky" is the opener that engulfs patrons of Thomas Pyncheon's "Gravity's Rainbow." An action-filled literary lead-in opens William Faulker's "Sound and the Fury": "Between the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting." The reader is grabbed at once with this line focusing on who is hitting and why? And there's seldom been a better opener indicating an already-completed disaster than J.G. Ballard's "Crash": "Vaughan died yesterday in his last car crash."

4 Leads with Imagery

Imagery is highly effective, as in Vladimer Nabakov's "Lolita": "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." William Gibson produced a beauty in "Neuromancer": "The sky was the color of television, turned to a dead channel." And Alice's Walker's "Color Purple" opener warns: "You better not tell anybody but God." The goal of any good narrative lead, whether through dialogue, action or imagery, is to get the reader to read on.

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.