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.
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 is Hans Bauer's "In the Beginning," which holds 500 examples arranged by book title. And Georgianne Ensign's "Great Beginnings and Endings: Opening and Closing Lines from Great Novels" offers not only some spectacular openers, but also the closers they bring readers to; one can see at once where the narrative leads are leading.
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."
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." A splendid actioner 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 -- 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."
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.
- Once Upon a Time: 100 Great Opening Lines to Great Novels; Tim Taaffe
- In the Beginning: Great First Lines From Your Favorite Books; Hans Bauer
- Great Beginnings and Endings: Opening and Closing Lines of Great Novels; Georgianne Ensign
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