My pants malfunctioned in the bathroom.
I blame Kenneth Cole, not user error.
It was many months ago when my zipper misfired inside the men’s restroom, minutes before meeting with a new client.
I flushed, began to zip, and the zipper’s slider body derailed from one side of the tracks.
The mirror confirmed it looked like my fly was open. Uh, yeah, that’s because my fly was open.
Cue panic and perspiration.
I rushed into a stall, stood there in a contorted way, and battled the hardware. But I couldn’t reconnect the slider body to the zipper’s second track.
No way was I going to be labeled as the best dressed flasher in my industry. And I’d only met with this business owner twice before. He didn’t need to know I was a boxers over briefs kind of guy.
So I hit the stall again, folded myself in half, and went to war with my metallic foe.
Within two minutes, I’d forced the zipper to clasp the second track at its midpoint. Except the slider body wouldn’t move up or down and my meeting was scheduled to start in one minute.
Zipper gridlock would have to do.
I double checked my reflection for approval, washed my hands and fled the scene.
THE POWER OF WONDER
I shared this true story to hook you. I believed my opening lines about malfunctioning pants would seize your attention by generating curiosity.
I contend every story must create curiosity in its first few sentences. Readers have too many options to be entertained these days so your opening lines are pivotal.
Forget that eBooks are easier than ever to refund. Remember that your opening lines serve as a promise to the reader because they showcase your potential as a storyteller.
People love to know the what, who, why, where, when and how behind anything that piques their interest. So captivate readers by wielding the power of wonder.
It’s that easy. And it’s that hard.
CURIOSITY DOESN’T KILL THE CAT
Readers are smarter than we give them credit. And I’m going to cremate this beaten deceased horse because storytellers continue to launch their novels with info dumps, over-explanations, backstory, etc.
Readers don’t want immediate answers. They want you to raise questions that breed more questions.
They’re begging you to use their curiosity against them. Straight up, you’ve been granted permission to exploit their lust for answers.
This approval makes it easier than ever to create hooks that advance readers from an opening line to the next sentence to the next paragraph and so on.
So I suggest writing prose on page one that prompts subconscious inquiries. This subtlety compels readers to seek more information which will slowly satisfy their curiosity while raising new questions at the same time.
My favorite opening lines and paragraphs are easy to digest, strike quickly and produce a healthy dose of wonder. Let’s look at a few of these novels and see how their opening lines spawned curiosity.
EXAMPLES FROM BESTSELLING NOVELS
FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
- “It was a pleasure to burn.”
What’s so fun to burn?
- A house… books…
Who’s burning this stuff?
- A firefighter…
Why’s a firefighter burning down a house instead of saving it?
- Because the burn ignites a fiery smile on his face that never goes away…
And so on…
THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir
- “I’m pretty much f@(#ed.”
How and why is this person f@(#ed?
- Six days into what should have been the greatest two months ever, it became a nightmare for Mark Whitney…
Who is Mark Whitney and what‘s his living nightmare?
- He’s in command of a Mars mission… He’s stranded there… Alone…
Why is he there alone?
- His crew mates thought he died… They abandoned him…
And so on…
THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern
- “The circus arrives without warning.”
Why no warning or advertisements? (Isn’t that bad for business?)
- It shows up, relies on word of mouth and only opens at night….
What kind of circus only opens at night?
- The kind that attracts lots of people…
How come so many people visit this circus?
- Darkness arrives, lights appear from every tent and fireflies unite to illuminate the night circus…
Wait, what are these fireflies doing?
- They’re spelling words… Le Cirques des Reves…
What does that mean?
- The Circus of Dreams…
What does that mean?
- The iron gates swing open so you can enter…
And so on…
PARTING THE ZIPPER CURTAIN
For the record, the client never had a clue about my zipper and those pants were retired after a solid 10 year run.
The curious case of my malfunctioning pants shows it doesn’t take much to engage readers. The primary objective is to create curiosity that will lead readers deeper into your story.
Now read your opening lines and consider the questions they raise. If you find it offering nothing but answers, put in the work to give your readers the wonder they desire and deserve.
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