'Whack at Your Reader at Once': Eight Great Opening Lines

Examples of How to Begin an Essay

  • Writing Essays
  • Writing Research Papers
  • English Grammar
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

In "The Writing of Essays" (1901), H.G. Wells offers some lively advice on how to begin an essay :

So long as you do not begin with a definition you may begin anyhow. An abrupt beginning is much admired, after the fashion of the clown's entry through the chemist's window. Then whack at your reader at once, hit him over the head with the sausages, brisk him up with the poker, bundle him into the wheelbarrow, and so carry him away with you before he knows where you are. You can do what you like with a reader then, if you only keep him nicely on the move. So long as you are happy your reader will be so too.

Good Opening Lines for Essays

In contrast to the leads seen in Hookers vs. Chasers: How Not to Begin an Essay , here are some opening lines that, in various ways, "whack" the reader at once and encourage us to read on.

  • I hadn't planned to wash the corpse. But sometimes you just get caught up in the moment. . . . (Reshma Memon Yaqub, "The Washing." The Washington Post Magazine , March 21, 2010)
  • The peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink of extinction by a ban on DDT, but also by a peregrine falcon mating hat invented by an ornithologist at Cornell University. . . . (David James Duncan, "Cherish This Ecstasy." The Sun , July 2008)
  • Unrequited love, as Lorenz Hart instructed us, is a bore, but then so are a great many other things: old friends gone somewhat dotty from whom it is too late to disengage, the important social-science-based book of the month, 95 percent of the items on the evening news, discussions about the Internet, arguments against the existence of God, people who overestimate their charm, all talk about wine, New York Times editorials, lengthy lists (like this one), and, not least, oneself. . . . (Joseph Epstein, "Duh, Bor-ing." Commentary , June 2011)
  • Before the 19th century, when dinosaur bones turned up they were taken as evidence of dragons, ogres, or giant victims of Noah's Flood. After two centuries of paleontological harvest, the evidence seems stranger than any fable, and continues to get stranger. . . . (John Updike, "Extreme Dinosaurs." National Geographic , December 2007)
  • During menopause, a woman can feel like the only way she can continue to exist for 10 more seconds inside her crawling, burning skin is to walk screaming into the sea--grandly, epically, and terrifyingly, like a 15-foot-tall Greek tragic figure wearing a giant, pop-eyed wooden mask. Or she may remain in the kitchen and begin hurling objects at her family: telephones, coffee cups, plates. . . . (Sandra Tsing Loh, "The Bitch Is Back." The Atlantic , October 2011)
  • There is a new cell-phone ring tone that can't be heard by most people over the age of twenty, according to an NPR report. The tone is derived from something called the Mosquito, a device invented by a Welsh security firm for the noble purpose of driving hooligans, yobs, scamps, ne'er-do-wells, scapegraces, ruffians, tosspots, and bravos away from places where grownups are attempting to ply an honest trade. . . . (Louis Menand, "Name That Tone." The New Yorker , June 26, 2006)
  • Only a sentence, casually placed as a footnote in the back of Justin Kaplan's thick 2003 biography of Walt Whitman, but it goes off like a little explosion: "Bram Stoker based the character of Dracula on Walt Whitman." . . . (Mark Doty, "Insatiable." Granta #117, 2011)
  • I have wonderful friends. In this last year, one took me to Istanbul. One gave me a box of hand-crafted chocolates. Fifteen of them held two rousing, pre-posthumous wakes for me. . . . (Dudley Clendinen, "The Good Short Life." The New York Times Sunday Review , July 9, 2011)

What Makes an Opening Line Effective

What these opening lines have in common is that all have been reprinted (with complete essays attached) in recent editions of The Best American Essays , an annual collection of crackling good reads culled from magazines, journals, and websites.

Unfortunately, not all the essays quite live up to the promise of their openings. And a few superb essays have rather pedestrian introductions . (One resorts to the formula, "In this essay, I want to explore . . ..") But all in all, if you're looking for some artful, thought-provoking, and occasionally humorous lessons in essay writing, open any volume of The Best American Essays .

  • Hookers vs. Chasers: How Not to Begin an Essay
  • How to Begin an Essay: 13 Engaging Strategies
  • Write an Attention-Grabbing Opening Sentence for an Essay
  • What Are the Different Types and Characteristics of Essays?
  • Examples of Great Introductory Paragraphs
  • A Guide to Using Quotations in Essays
  • The Difference Between an Article and an Essay
  • 50 Great Topics for a Process Analysis Essay
  • What Is a Compelling Introduction?
  • Writers on Writing: The Art of Paragraphing
  • The Title in Composition
  • Development in Composition: Building an Essay
  • Bad Essay Topics for College Admissions
  • How to Write a Great College Application Essay Title
  • How to Structure an Essay
  • List of Topics for How-to Essays

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36 Engaging opening sentences for an essay

An essay’s opening sentence has a tremendous impact on the reader. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an argumentative essay, a personal narrative, or a research paper; how your text begins will affect its tone and topic. You can write about anything as long as it is relevant to your thesis—starting with an engaging opening sentence may be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful essay.

An introduction is the first section of any paper that allows you to introduce your thesis and provide an overview of your argument or discussion. A good introduction should grab your audience’s attention and entice them to read on, summarising what you’re trying to say concisely. It’s a good idea to think of your introduction as a hook, writing an opening sentence that will leave your reader wanting more.

Writing a thesis statement is the first thing you need to do when planning your paper. Although there are multiple strategies for creating a thesis statement, you must express yourself clearly and answer three simple questions: What is the main idea of my essay? Why is it important? How do I plan to prove it in a paper?

There are countless ways to begin an essay or a thesis effectively. As a start, here are 36 introductory strategies accompanied by examples from a wide range of professional writers.

1. “Is it possible to be truly anonymous online?”

This is an engaging opening sentence because it immediately poses a problem that the reader will likely want answered. It’s also interesting that this question applies directly to internet usage, something everybody has experience with. The subject of the opening sentence is “online anonymity,” which allows the writer to discuss two related concepts.

2. “I was shocked to awake one morning to find I had turned into a snail.”

The opening sentence immediately grabs the reader’s attention with its play on words, leaving them unsure if it’s meant as a joke. It continues to entertain by combining an unlikely image (a person turning into a snail) with waking up more common. The sentence also establishes the essay’s tone, which is humorous and personal.

3. “I didn’t want to study abroad.”

This opening sentence immediately intrigues the reader because it presents an opinion that contradicts what would be expected in this type of assignment. The writer then follows with a statement about their decision to study abroad, discussing the reasons for this choice and explaining their position on the matter.

4. “The three dogs had been barking for over an hour before my neighbor finally came out to investigate.”

This opening sentence introduces a narrative about something that happened in the past, starting with dogs barking at night. The next sentence provides background information by revealing that the neighbor came out after an hour and then reasons for this delay. The fact that the writer does not reveal why this is significant until later on makes the opening sentence even more effective because it keeps the reader engaged with what will happen next.

5. “I have always been interested in fashion.”

This opening sentence immediately sets the topic for the entire paper by discussing interest in fashion. It also establishes the tone, clearly portraying the writer’s voice while informing the audience about their personal experience with the subject matter.

6. “I remember when I first realized I didn’t have a home.”

This opening sentence begins a personal narrative about a time before moving out of their family home when the writer realized they didn’t live there anymore. It uses flashbacks to set up the rest of the essay by showing what happened before they moved out and how this made them feel.

7. “When I was in middle school, my dad told me not to get into fights.”

This opening sentence establishes a relationship between the writer and the subject of their essay, creating a more personal tone. It also establishes an expectation for what will be discussed by telling something that happened in the past. The sentence ends with a twist, so it’s more interesting than just stating something that was told to them, making this opening sentence effective.

8. “When I first sat down to write this essay, I was absolutely certain of the thesis.”

This opening sentence immediately introduces conflict because it tells about something that didn’t occur as expected. It also implies that there will be an alternate solution or angle for this paper that will be explored in the following paragraphs. The vocabulary (like “absolutely”) suggests more certainty in this opening paragraph than presented, making it interesting to read.

9. “I remember the first time I killed a man.”

This opening sentence offers an unexpected statement that intrigues the reader and immediately draws them into the essay, wanting to know more about what happened. This type of sentence is called a gripping opener because it does just that. The sentence is also effective because it creates suspense and anticipation in the reader’s mind about what will happen next in this story .

10. “There are two sides to every story: my side and your side.”

This opening sentence introduces a topic that will be revisited multiple times throughout the essay, making it effective for an introduction. It also creates a sense of mystery about the two sides and how they relate to each other, which will be resolved later on once it becomes clear that there are three sides.

11. “I should start this essay by introducing myself.”

This opening sentence includes an explanation for why this paragraph is being written (to introduce oneself) before it ends with a question (“who am I?”). This is effective because it gets the reader to think critically about who the writer is and what they want to say. It also permits them to stop reading after this sentence if they don’t feel like it, making it one of the less intimidating opening sentences.

12. “At the age of seven, I knew my life was going to be amazing.”

This opening sentence establishes a confident, optimistic tone by mentioning something that happened in the past. It also implies that the writer had this positive outlook before anything particularly special happened to them yet, which will likely be mentioned later on, making it more interesting to read.

13. “I don’t know when I lost my sense of excitement for learning.”

This opening sentence presents a conflict that the writer will likely try to resolve in this essay, which gives the reader something to look forward to. It also establishes voice by expressing how they feel about their education so far and suggesting what could be done about it.

14. “Coming home after a long day of school and work is like walking into a warzone.”

This opening sentence creates a sense of conflict that will likely be discussed later on and establishes voice because it shows the writer’s attitude towards their environment. It provides an example of why this subject has been brought up by describing what happens during this “warzone” of a day.

15. “I’ve always loved school.”

This opening sentence is effective because it provides an example of how their life used to be before the issue was introduced (in the next few sentences), making it more interesting to read. It also creates a sense of nostalgia about how good things used to be, making it more engaging.

16. “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

This opening sentence is effective because it creates a voice by describing the writer’s experience and establishes conflict, so the reader knows what to expect in this essay. It provokes an emotional response in the reader, making them more interested.

17. “On day two of our honeymoon, my wife passed out.”

This opening sentence creates suspense by mentioning what happens before revealing why this is significant. It also establishes conflict because it implies that the writer’s wife’s health will be an issue throughout the essay. This leads to a likely discussion about whether or not they should continue their honeymoon, making it engaging for the reader.

18. “I’m a college student, and I hate it.”

This opening sentence establishes conflict for the rest of the essay because it implies that something negatively affects their education. It also establishes voice by showing what they think about being a student and how they feel about college so far, which makes it more interesting to read.

19. “The first time I heard the word ‘stan’ was when Eminem released his song in 2000 by the same name.”

This opening sentence establishes conflict for what will likely be discussed later on and also creates a sense of nostalgia because it takes the reader back to a significant point in recent history that they might remember (rare for essays). It also establishes voice because it shows the writer’s knowledge about rap music.

20. “I used to hate when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up because I never knew how to answer them.”

This opening sentence helps the reader understand why this essay was written to tie into their own experiences. It also establishes conflict by revealing something that the writer used to be troubled by. It also makes them seem relatable because everyone has problems with their future at one point or another.

21. “All my life, I’ve been told I was destined for greatness.”

This opening sentence establishes that the writer had difficulties in their life despite being seen as destined for greatness so far. It also creates a sense of conflict because it implies that they will have to convince the reader otherwise, making it more interesting to read.

22. “My friend once told me that I should never say ‘I’m just being honest when discussing our differences, but I always do.”

This opening sentence creates conflict by showing the reader that there is always tension between the writer and their friend because of this issue. It also establishes voice because it shows how honest they are about their differences, which makes them more relatable. This makes it engaging for the reader to read on.

23. “I’ve never been one to keep my emotions bottled up, and now that I’m pregnant, that’s been amplified.”

This opening sentence establishes emotion from the writer because it shows that they are uncomfortable keeping their emotions to themselves and continue to do so even when they become pregnant. It also creates a sense of conflict because the reader will probably wonder how this lack of emotional inhibition might affect them later on.

24. “The first time I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ it changed my life.”

This opening sentence grabs the reader’s attention and shows what impact this book has had on the writer so far. It also establishes how passionate the writer is towards literature and makes them more relatable because many people have been affected by great works of literature in some way. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

25. “As I walked out of class one day, my professor asked me what I wanted to do with my future.”

This opening sentence establishes conflict by showing that there was a time when the writer did not have an answer to this question despite being capable of doing anything in their mind. It also establishes voice by showing that the writer can stand up for themselves when pushed and makes them seem more relatable because everyone struggles with thinking about their future at some point or another. This is engaging for the reader to continue reading.

26. “I’ve always been taught that it’s impolite to talk about money, but I want to share my experience with you.”

This opening sentence establishes voice by showing that the writer does not abide by this code of conduct because they believe it’s more important to be open and honest. It also creates a sense of conflict so that the reader might have their own contrasting opinions, which will create tension while reading. This is engaging for the reader to continue reading.

27. “Growing up, I never liked math, and it wasn’t until college that I realized why.”

This opening sentence establishes voice because it shows how passionate the writer was about their dislike of math despite not knowing why. It also creates conflict because they will have to explain their reasoning to the reader, which makes it more interesting to read, and it is engaging for the reader to read on.

28. “There are so many factors that go into determining how much someone should be paid, but I believe that everyone deserves equal pay.”

This opening sentence establishes conflict because the writer believes in something that not many people support, and they will have to explain their reasoning. It also establishes voice because it shows that the writer is passionate about this belief and makes them more relatable for other people who share the same opinion. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

29. “Many things have been said about Millennials, but no one has asked us what we think.”

This opening sentence creates a sense of conflict because the reader might be wondering what this person thinks as a Millennial. It also establishes voice by using “us” to show that they are not alone in their beliefs and makes them seem more relatable. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

30. “I finally found a job that I love, and as it turns out, it’s located in a city that has been my dream destination since I was little.”

This opening sentence establishes voice because it shows how the writer feels about their new job and makes them sound passionate about their work which makes the reader want to read on. This is engaging for the reader to continue.

31. “It was the summer of 2001 when I first came across an anime dubbed in French.”

This opening sentence establishes voice through personal experience and makes it relatable because many people have watched their favorite movies or shows in another language. It also creates a sense of conflict by making the reader wonder why they continued watching even though they didn’t understand much of what was being said. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

32. “For years, I thought my life was perfect, until one day when I realized that there’s nothing more important than your mental health.”

This opening sentence establishes voice by showing that the writer used to have this belief but then had a heart change, making them more relatable because everyone’s beliefs change over time. It also creates a sense of conflict by questioning what the reader believes about their mental health, which will make them want to continue reading. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

33. “As children, it’s easy to dream about becoming an astronaut or a firefighter, but I never imagined that my greatest passion would be writing.”

This opening sentence establishes voice by showing how the writer is passionate about what they are currently doing. It also creates a sense of conflict because the reader may have different interests, making it more interesting to read. This is engaging for the reader to continue reading on.

34. “If you would’ve asked me a few months ago, I wouldn’t have said that my life was perfect. However, after some time and perspective, I’m grateful for the twists and turns.”

This opening sentence establishes voice by showing how this person’s perspective has changed over time. It also creates a sense of conflict because it questions what the reader thinks and makes them want to read on. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

35. “Everyone has goals in life, whether it’s saving up enough money to buy a house or finally writing that book.”

This opening sentence establishes conflict because it questions the reader’s goals and shows how they may be different from the writer’s. It also creates a sense of connection because many people share the same goals and make them want to keep reading. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

36. “I’m not sure if I’ve ever told you this, but my favorite show as a child was A Little Princess.”

This opening sentence establishes voice by showing that the writer shares a secret and makes them sound like they’re talking directly to someone. It also creates a sense of conflict because it’s difficult to imagine that the reader doesn’t know this information and makes them want to read on. This is engaging for the reader to read on.

Final Words

To conclude, there are countless ways to begin an essay or a thesis effectively. These 36 opening sentences for an essay are just a few examples of how to do so. There is no “right way” to start, but it will become easier to find your voice and style as you continue writing and practicing. Good luck!

Harvard University

Purdue University

Royal Literary Fund- Essay Writing Guide

University of Melbourne

Amherst College

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opening lines to essays

How To Write A Great First Line (With 12 Unforgettable Examples)

by Writer's Relief Staff | Craft: Memoir , Craft: Nonfiction Book , Craft: Novel Writing , Craft: Personal Essay Writing , Craft: Poetry, Poems , Craft: Short Story Writing , Creative Writing Craft and Techniques , Inspiration And Encouragement For Writers , Other Helpful Information , The Writing Life | 17 comments

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first line

Updated May 2023

Some writers can craft the perfect first line on the very first try—and if that’s happened to you, you can bet the writing muses were in a darn good mood that day. At Writer’s Relief , we’ve worked with hundreds of authors, and we know most writers return to the first line of their novel, memoir, story, poem, or personal essay again and again, continuing to rework the opening line even after the rest of the piece is done.

opening lines to essays

To help inspire you (and give your muse a nudge), here are some examples of first lines from literature (poems, short stories, and novels) that offer great insight into opening line techniques.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Offer a pithy insight. Even people who aren’t book nerds recognize the opening line from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina ; its wisdom is succinct, cutting, and not quickly forgotten.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Be “meta.” The opening line from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn feels bold, brazen, and shocking even to modern readers. Prequel-bait aside, this first line is hilariously self-referential, which might make Mark Twain the father of hipster irony.

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ; but that ain’t no matter.

 You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.

Be coy. In Flannery O’Connor’s chilling story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” we get an opening line that, frankly, leaves us hanging. Who is “the grandmother”? Why doesn’t she have a name? Why is she being forced to go to Florida?

The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.

Go for the jugular. In his epic long poem, Howl , Allen Ginsberg grabs readers by the throat with this emotional cry and protest.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical

Lie. Lie so enormously that your lie makes readers suspicious, like Shirley Jackson did when she set an excessively bright, happy, “everything’s perfect here” tone with the first line of her short story “The Lottery.”

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green…

Unsettle us. George Orwell’s first line of 1984 starts off like a typical opening sentence but ends with an unexpected twist, giving readers a creepy, “I’m missing something here” feeling. (And in a few lines, we also get an even creepier “I’m being watched” feeling too.)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

I’m still not sure I made the right choice when I told my wife about the bakery attack.

Go for in media res . This term means the author drops the character smack into the middle of a progressing scene—or in the case of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty , it just looks like that’s what’s happening. (See what James Thurber’s doing there?)

“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.

“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.

Cue the peril. In her book Twilight, Stephanie Meyer teases readers with a life-and-death, in-media-res prologue that won’t fully manifest for a few hundred pages.

I’d never given much thought to how I would die—though I’d had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Be obscure. T.S. Eliot’s first line of The Waste Land is a bit perplexing at first glance; you must keep reading to understand the author’s (seemingly counterintuitive) point. How could April—glorious, warming, colorful April—be cruel?

April is the cruellest month.

April is the cruellest month.

Lead with character. In his book Middlesex , Jeffrey Eugenides pulls us into the plight of his main character with just a few tantalizing, heart-wrenching words.

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

Last things first. In David Copperfield, Charlie Dickens doesn’t make us slowly journey alongside of his main character to discover the character’s inner emotional conflict; he gives us a hint of the final showdown right up front.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

And One Important Thing To Remember About Your First Line

Your opening line doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it needs to set to tone for the rest of your book, story, or poem. First lines are so important (and fun), there’s an entire publication dedicated to works that start with the same first line .

But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to start out with a great line when you’re just beginning a new project. Sometimes, your first line will be the last one you write!

Once you’ve completed your masterpiece (and your first line), it’s time to submit your work to literary agents and journal editors. The research experts at Writer’s Relief can help you target the very best markets for your work and boost your odds of getting published! With over twenty-nine years of experience, we can pinpoint where you should—and where you shouldn’t—submit your work. Learn more about our services and submit your writing sample to our Review Board today!

Writer Questions



My first line: The sickening sound of bones cracking as Sarwa’a hit the wall galvanized Hikala’a into action.


CC: Melodious, flowery, adverbial and adjective fluff. Feels cliche, too. (“sickening sound of bones cracking”? ya-da, ya-da) What bones (or at least, what body part(s))? What did Hikala’a STOP doing in order to get “into action”?

“The crack of Sarwa’a’s arm breaking against the wall shook Hikala’a out of his numbaqua.” (You can define whether that’s “indecision about an action” or “state of focusing on something that’s been said to the exclusion of all other awareness” or what have you a few paragraphs later)

Tommy Renalds

My intro “I like cows because of their color pattern… and other reasons!” – thoughts?


Suzanne tossed the bloodied knife into the sink, not bothering to wash it off.

daniel quentin steele

Whoever came up with that ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ line was full of it!


Hi, I am writing for the first time and is my first sentence any good?

First Line: It was a hot October Sunday, and the Carpenters were sitting around, having nothing to do. The Carpenter household was like any other on Pearl Street, boring and bland. But they thought that somehow they are at the center of attention.

Any suggestions? Leave ANY comments:


Some really great examples here – I can never make up my mind as to whether the greatest-of-all-time is 1984 or Anna Karenina. Both perfect and beautiful, though so different. Thank you so much for giving these examples alongside tangible advice for how and why to make them work in your own writing, really well done 🙂

Sandra Hamilton

My first line, “They tried to pin a murder one me, little old me who couldn’t swat a fly. Not sober anyway”. My book was called Bedlam. Never got published. Never mind, tomorrow is another day.

Angela S

Great examples, my favourite from your article has to be 1984, it certainly makes you sit up and pay attention. Middlesex is a close second, a great book, really moving. Another that stands out for me is from The Secret History by Donna Tartt, “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” It throws you in at the deep end and then lets you slowly find out what happened to Bunny over the next few hundred pages!

Danielle Moroux

“Hey girl throw me some beads. Throw me some beads for my horse too.”

First line to my book.


I’m writing my first novel and so excited. My first line, please be brutally honest. “He was bored, the ragee coursing through his veins, he was ready.” Tell me what you think. You’re the first I’ve ever asked.

Brennah Abernathy

My first line: My mother used to say that only wild girls grew beautifully.

Does it sound too… farfetched, like I’m trying to present an idea, but only giving half of the information?

Sally Morem

The first paragraph of my far-future science fiction novel:

“The Civilization appeared very briefly in the avatar of an Late Archaic Human female, clad in a severely cut gray dress with black button-up shoes, gray hair tightly done up in a bun, and a pair of lenses attached to wire precariously perched on her nose. And then she vanished as swiftly as she had appeared.”


Dix insists that the severed fingers started it, but it’s who I am, and who Dix is, that got us in so deep and nearly killed us in the process.


I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on the first sentence of my mystery novel. “Although I was thoroughly shaken by the note, all sticky-taped to my bedroom window, in red ink and all, my wonder is how someone could’ve gotten it there when our house is halfway off a cliff?”

Traci Domergue

First Line. Adriana awoke hearing the sound of her alarm clock ringing and the phone, in unison! She was grumpy before coffee and really didn’t want to answer her phone just yet.


Sorry this is 3 years too late but would hate to learn that you were discouraged from continuing your writing based on the comments from Wendy She clearly knows little about language. “Adverbial and adjective fluff” is objectively wrong. There is not one adverb in your opening sentence, for instance. And there is no need to specify which bones were broken nor what Hikala’a was doing. Your opening is fine and will move a reader to read on. Wendy seems to be a bit full of herself and doesn’t know the parts of speech. Good luck, CC! Don’t ever let anyone stop you from writing.

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How to Write a Great Opening Sentence

Examples of great first sentences (and how they did it), how to write a strong opening sentence & engage readers (with examples).

opening lines to essays

“I’ve never met you, but I’m gonna read your mind.”

That’s the opening line to The Scribe Method . It does what great opening sentences should: it immediately captures the reader’s attention. It makes them want to read more.

The purpose of a good opening line is to engage the reader and get them to start reading the book. That’s it.

It’s a fairly simple idea, and it works very well—but there are still a lot of misconceptions about book openings .

Many first-time Authors think they have to shock the reader to make them take note.

That’s not true. There are many ways to hook a reader that don’t require shocking them.

I also see Authors who think the purpose of the first paragraph is to explain what they’ll talk about in the book.

Not only is that wrong, it’s boring.

Readers can sense bullshit a mile away, so don’t try to beat them over the head with shock. Don’t give them a tedious summary. Don’t tell your life story. Don’t go into too much detail.

Use your first sentence to connect to the reader and make them want to keep reading.

This guide will help you write a great opening line so you can establish that authenticity and connection quickly.

Everyone knows some of the great opening lines from fiction novels:

  • “Call me Ishmael.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick​​​​
  • “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  • “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • “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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The common thread between these opening lines is that they create a vivid first impression. They make the reader want to know more.

They’re punchy, intriguing, and unexpected.

The first words of a nonfiction book work the same way. You want to create an emotional connection with the reader so they can’t put the book down.

In some ways, nonfiction Authors even have an advantage. They’re writing about themselves and their knowledge while having a conversation with the reader.

They can establish the connection even more immediately because they don’t have to set a fictional scene. They can jump right in and use the first person “I.”

Let’s go back to The Scribe Method ‘s opening paragraph:

I’ve never met you, but I’m gonna read your mind. Not literally, of course. I’m going to make an educated guess about why you want to write a book.

When you read that, at a minimum, you’re going to think, “All right, dude, let’s see if you really know why I want to write a book .” And you’re going to keep reading.

At best, you’re going to think, “Wow. He’s inside my head right now.” And you’re going to keep reading.

In both cases, I’ve managed to create an emotional connection with the reader. Even if that emotion is skepticism, it’s enough to hook someone.

So where do you start when you’re writing your book? How do you form that connection?

The best hooks usually start in the middle of the highest intensity.

In other words, lead with the most emotional part of the story.

If you’re starting your book with a story about how you got chased by the police, don’t begin with what you had for breakfast that day. Start with the chase.

A good hook might also be a question or a claim—anything that will elicit an emotional response from a reader.

Think about it this way: a good opening sentence is the thing you don’t think you can say, but you still want to say.

Like, “This book will change your life.”

Or, “I’ve come up with the most brilliant way anyone’s ever found for handling this problem.”

Your opening sentence isn’t the time for modesty (as long as you can back it up!).

You want to publish a book for a reason . Now’s your chance to show a reader why they should want to read it.

That doesn’t mean you have to be cocky. You just have to be honest and engaging.

When you’re trying to come up with a great opening line, ask yourself these 3 things:

  • What will the audience care about, be interested in, or be surprised by?
  • What is the most interesting story or inflammatory statement in your book?
  • What do you have to say that breaks the rules?

The best opening lines are gut punches.

They summarize the book, at least in an oblique way. But they’re not dry facts. They’re genuine, behind-the-scenes glimpses into a human life. They establish who you are and what you’re about, right from the beginning.

Human beings respond to genuine connection. That means being vulnerable. You have to break down any barriers that you might usually keep around you.

That’s one of the hardest things to do as an Author, but it makes for a great book.

Reading about perfection is boring, especially because we all know there’s no such thing.

In the next section, I’ll go through examples of great first sentences and explain why they work.

Every one of these strategies helps create an instant, authentic connection with readers. You just have to pick the one that makes the most sense for your book.

1. Revealing Personal Information

When most people think about comedian Tiffany Haddish, they think of a glamorous celebrity.

They don’t think about a kid who had trouble in school because she had an unstable home life, reeked of onions, and struggled with bullying.

From the first line of her book, Tiffany reveals that you’re going to learn things about her that you don’t know—personal things.

I mean, really personal.

The book’s opening story concludes with her trying to cut a wart off her face because she was teased so much about it (that’s where the “unicorn” nickname came from).

That level of personal connection immediately invites the reader in. It promises that the Author is going to be honest and vulnerable, no holds barred.

This isn’t going to be some picture-perfect memoir. It’s going to be real, and it’s going to teach you something.

And that’s what forms a connection.

2. Mirroring the Reader’s Pain

Geoffrey and I chose this opening sentence because it let readers know right away that we know their pain.

Not only that, we knew how to fix it .

If a reader picked up the book and didn’t connect to that opening line, they probably weren’t our target audience.

But if someone picked it up and said, “This is exactly what I want to know!” we already had them hooked.

They would trust us immediately because we proved in the first sentence that we understood them.

In this sentence, Geoffrey and I are positioned as the experts. People are coming to us for help.

But you can also mirror your reader’s pain more directly. Check out this example from Jennifer Luzzato’s book, Inheriting Chaos with Compassion :

That’s a gut punch for anyone. But it’s an even bigger one for Jennifer’s target audience: people who unexpectedly lose a loved one and are left dealing with financial chaos.

Jennifer isn’t just giving the reader advice.

She’s showing that she’s been through the pain. She understands it. And she’s the right person to help the reader solve it.

3. Asking the Reader a Question

Readers come to nonfiction books because they want help solving a problem.

If you picked up a book about team-building, culture, and leadership, you likely want answers to some questions.

Daniel Coyle’s book shows the reader, right off the bat, that he’s going to give you answers.

His question also isn’t a boring, how-do-organizations-work type of question.

It’s compelling enough to make you keep reading, at least for a few more sentences. And then ideally, a few sentences, pages, and chapters after that.

Starting with a question is often a variation on tactic number 2.

If the reader picked up your book hoping to solve a certain problem or learn how to do something, asking them that compelling question can immediately show them that you understand their pain.

It can set the stage for the whole book.

You can also pique the reader’s interest by asking them a question they’ve never thought about.

Nicholas Kusmich ‘s book Give starts with the question,

It’s a unique question that hooks a reader.

But the answer still cuts straight to the heart of his book: “Both entrepreneurs and superheroes want to use their skills to serve people and make the world a better place.”

The unexpected framing gives readers a fresh perspective on a topic they’ve probably already thought a lot about.

4. Shock the Reader

I said in the intro to this post that you don’t have to shock the reader to get their attention.

I never said you couldn’t .

If you’re going to do it, though, you have to do it well.

This is the best opening to a book I’ve ever read. I’m actually a dog person, so this shocked the hell out of me. It was gripping.

As you read, the sentence starts making more sense, but it stays just as shocking. And you can’t help but finish the page and the chapter to understand why. But my God, what a way to hook a reader (in case you are wondering, the dogs were licking up blood from dead bodies and giving away the soldiers’ positions to insurgents. They had to kill the dogs or risk being discovered).

I read this opening sentence as part of an excerpt from the book on Business Insider .

I plowed through the excerpt, bought the book on Kindle, canceled two meetings, and read the whole book.

5. Intrigue the Reader

If you don’t read that and immediately want to know what the realization was, you’re a force to be reckoned with.

People love reading about drama, screw-ups, and revelations. By leading with one, Will immediately intrigues his readers.

opening lines to essays

They’ll want to keep reading so they can solve the mystery. What was the big deal?

I’m not going to tell you and spoil the fun. You’ll have to check out Will’s book to find out.

There are other ways to be intriguing, too. For example, see the opening line to Lorenzo Gomez’ Cilantro Diaries :

Again, the Author is setting up a mystery.

He wants the reader to rack his brain and say, “Well, if it’s not the famous stuff, what is it?”

And then, when Lorenzo gets to the unexpected answer—the H-E-B grocery store—they’re even more intrigued.

Why would a grocery store make someone’s top-ten list, much less be the thing they’d miss most?

That kind of unexpected storytelling is perfect for keeping readers engaged.

The more intrigue you can create, the more they’ll keep turning the pages.

6. Lead with a Bold Claim

There are thousands of books about marketing. So, how does an Author cut through the noise?

If you’re David Allison, you cut right to the chase and lead with a bold claim.

You tell people you’re going to change the world. And then you tell them you have the data to back it up.

If your reader is sympathetic, they’re going to jump on board. If they’re skeptical, they’re still going to want to see if David’s claim holds up.

Here’s the thing, though: only start bold if you can back it up.

Don’t tell someone you’re going to transform their whole life and only offer a minor life hack. They’ll feel cheated.

But if you’re really changing the way that people think about something, do something, or feel about something, then lead with it.

Start big. And then prove it.

7. Be Empathetic and Honest

One Last Talk is one of the best books we’ve ever done at Scribe. And it shows right from the first sentence.

Philip starts with a bold claim: “If you let it, this book will change your life.”

But then he gives a caveat: it’s not going to be fun.

That’s the moment when he forms an immediate connection with the reader.

Many Authors will tell their readers, “This book will change your life. It’s going to be incredible! Just follow these steps and be on your way!”

Not many Authors will lead with, “It’s going to be worth it, but it’s going to be miserable.”

By being this upfront about the emotional work the book involves, Philip immediately proves to his readers that he’s honest and empathetic.

He understands what they’re going to go through. And he can see them through it, even if it sucks.

One piece of advice we give at Scribe is to talk to your reader like you’re talking to a friend.

Philip does that. And it shows the reader they’re dealing with someone authentic.

8. Invite the Reader In

Joey starts the book by speaking directly to the reader.

He immediately creates a connection and invites the reader in. This makes the book feel more like a conversation between two people than something written by a nameless, faceless Author.

The reason this tactic works so well is because Joey’s whole book is about never losing a customer.

He immediately puts the book’s principles into action.

From the first sentence, Joey’s demonstrating exactly what the reader is there to learn.

The Scribe Crew

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opening lines to essays

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  • Introductions

The introduction to an academic essay will generally present an analytical question or problem and then offer an answer to that question (the thesis).

Your introduction is also your opportunity to explain to your readers what your essay is about and why they should be interested in reading it. You don’t have to “hook” your readers with a dramatic promise (every other discussion of the topic you’re writing about is completely wrong!) or an exciting fact (the moon can reach 127 degrees Celsius!). Instead, you should use your introduction to explain to your readers why your essay is going to be interesting to read. To do this, you’ll need to frame the question or problem that you’re writing about and explain why this question or problem is important. If you make a convincing case for why your question or problem is worth solving, your readers will be interested in reading on.

While some of the conventions for writing an introduction vary by discipline, a strong introduction for any paper will contain some common elements. You can see these common elements in the sample introductions on this page. In general, your introductions should contain the following elements:

  • Orienting information . When you’re writing an essay, it’s helpful to think about what your reader needs to know in order to follow your argument. Your introduction should include enough information so that readers can understand the context for your thesis. For example, if you are analyzing someone else’s argument, you will need to identify that argument and possibly summarize its key points. If you are joining a scholarly conversation about education reform, you will need to provide context for this conversation before explaining what your essay adds to the discussion. But you don’t necessarily have to summarize your sources in detail in your introduction; that information may fit in better later in your essay. When you’re deciding how much context or background information to provide, it can be helpful to think about that information in relation to your thesis. You don’t have to tell readers everything they will need to know to understand your entire essay right away. You just need to give them enough information to be able to understand and appreciate your thesis. For some assignments, you’ll be able to assume that your audience has also read the sources you are analyzing. But even in those cases, you should still offer enough information for readers to know which parts of a source you are talking about. When you’re writing a paper based on your own research, you will need to provide more context about the sources you’re going to discuss. If you’re not sure how much you can assume your audience knows, you should consult your instructor.
  • An explanation of what’s at stake in your essay, or why anyone would need to read an essay that argues this thesis. You will know why your essay is worth writing if you are trying to answer a question that doesn’t have an obvious answer; to propose a solution to a problem without one obvious solution; or to point out something that others may not have noticed that changes the way we consider a phenomenon, source, or idea. In all of these cases, you will be trying to understand something that you think is valuable to understand. But it’s not enough that you know why your essay is worth reading; you also need to explain to your readers why they should care about reading an essay that argues your thesis. In other words, part of the role of an introduction is to explain to your reader what is at stake in your argument. As you draft your introduction, it can be helpful to think about how you arrived at your thesis and to take your reader through a shortened version of that process by framing the question or problem that you are trying to answer and explaining why it’s worth exploring. It’s not enough to explain why the topic you’re writing about matters; rather, you need to explain what your essay adds to that discussion. So, for example, if you were writing an essay about the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health, it wouldn’t be enough to say that what’s at stake is that “people care about reproductive rights.” That would explain why, in general, someone might want to read about this topic. But your readers need to know why your thesis is worth arguing. Does it challenge an accepted view? Does it present a new way of considering a concept? Does it put the Supreme Court decision into a historical context in a way that is unusual or surprising?
  • Your thesis: What you’re arguing in your essay.  

Tips for writing introductions  

  • If you are writing in a new discipline, you should always make sure to ask about conventions and expectations for introductions, just as you would for any other aspect of the essay. For example, while it may be acceptable to write a two-paragraph (or longer) introduction for your papers in some courses, instructors in other disciplines, such as those in some Government courses, may expect a shorter introduction that includes a preview of the argument that will follow.  
  • In some disciplines (Government, Economics, and others), it’s common to offer an overview in the introduction of what points you will make in your essay. In other disciplines, you will not be expected to provide this overview in your introduction.  
  • Avoid writing a very general opening sentence. While it may be true that “Since the dawn of time, people have been telling love stories,” it won’t help you explain what’s interesting about your topic.  
  • Avoid writing a “funnel” introduction in which you begin with a very broad statement about a topic and move to a narrow statement about that topic. Broad generalizations about a topic will not add to your readers’ understanding of your specific essay topic.  
  • Avoid beginning with a dictionary definition of a term or concept you will be writing about. If the concept is complicated or unfamiliar to your readers, you will need to define it in detail later in your essay. If it’s not complicated, you can assume your readers already know the definition.  
  • Avoid offering too much detail in your introduction that a reader could better understand later in the paper.
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  • What Do Introductions Across the Disciplines Have in Common?
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How to Write a Killer Opening to Your College Essay

opening lines to essays

Whether you’re still brainstorming topics for your college essay or personal statement, or completing your final draft, you know your essay needs to stand out from the crowd. You know you need to “get creative,” but it is so hard to know what a college wants to see.

While the school you are applying to also has access to your list of activities and transcript, your essay is their only chance to get to know your personality. Your personality and life experiences matter to your future college because they are a good indicator of whether you would be a good fit on their campus. Colleges ask for a “personal” statement for a reason.

The introduction paragraph of your essay sets the tone for the rest of the essay. So while the topic of your essay or personal statement needs to show depth and provide insight into the person behind the application, the introduction lays the blueprints for the reader on what to expect. So, get creative (we’ll explain what that really means!), skip the cheese, and write from the heart.

Make Creativity the Key

Your opening line should show creativity, but without being cheesy. Something like: “Laughter, much like time, can heal most wounds…” or, “The stage lights flooded my senses, blocking out my vision and the laughter of the crowd before me…” instantly makes the reader want to read further and see where this essay will take you. The reader immediately has questions. Is the author sick? Will the rest of the essay be funny or sad? This particular essay was written by a pre-med hopeful who enjoyed writing stand-up comedy on the side. Her essay shared information about her future career plans, while also inviting admissions professionals to catch a glimpse of her personal life outside the classroom, allowing them to feel like they know her well after reading her essay. If this same student had begun her essay with, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” to indicate her unique interests, the tone would be set with a trite, less authentic opening.

Create an Air of Mystery

Have you ever been so invested in a book that you secretly read the last page? It’s human nature to be attracted to a bit of drama. Riveting, mysterious opening lines keep the reader alert throughout the rest of your essay, as they try to anticipate the curve balls your essay may throw. Don’t be afraid to leave readers hanging for a moment with your first scene, as long as you provide the answers in a timely manner. Here are some examples:

“My hands shook as I realized my mistake.” This essay describes a student who makes a mistake in a laboratory that leads him to a new discovery. By beginning with this story, he is able to talk about his internship in a science lab, as well as end the essay with his experience having his discovery published in a medical journal, hitting two major points on his resume.

“The texture of yarn beneath my fingers reminded me of childhood stuffed animals.” This essay tells the story of a girl teaching herself to knit to connect with her grandmother, and eventually begins crocheting hats, scarves and toys for homeless and foster children. Readers are invited to know the author personally, in addition to expanding on one of her resume entries.

Paint a Picture

Every article containing advice about the Personal Statement agrees: Don’t tell your reader what you did, show them. Paint a picture for them. After an attention-grabbing opening line that leaves the reader wondering what comes next, the rest of your introduction needs to tell a story.

For example: “I turned to the young boy, pausing as his eyes brimmed with tears of frustration, before explaining my new plan of action to help him understand,” is much better than: “The summer before senior year, I tutored an elementary student in math and learned a lot about myself.”

The more detail you add, the more invested the reader will become. Remember, the college is admitting YOU, not just your resume.

Act Natural

A great beginning exercise is to make an outline with the essay prompts, whether these are the Common Application essay choices or the prompts found on the college’s admissions page. Try to answer each essay prompt with three essay topics. Start writing, and see which one flows the best and resonates with your creativity. With the right topic, the opening line will sound natural and the rest of the essay will flow easily.

If you are truly struggling with the voice or organization of your essay, try reading sample essays. While you are reading these essays, write down opening lines and sentences you feel are truly effective or clever. With a page of these inspiring sentences in front of you, try to rewrite your essay using these techniques and try a variety of opening lines.

Take the Bird’s Eye View

Take it from someone (me!) who sat in one of those admissions seats: It is truly essential that your essay be memorable, beginning with the opening line.

I remember the lengthy days of reading admissions files, often reviewing dozens of essays each day. Most of them sounded like copies of one another. Others I still remember to this day, despite reading at least a dozen essays before them that day. Read your opening line and full essay through the eyes of a potential admissions official who has read 20 essays before yours. Does your essay still stand out? Would it catch your attention at the end of a long day of reading essays?

If you can answer yes to these questions, you’re headed in the right direction.

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Author: Michaela Schieffer

Michaela Schieffer is a former admissions counselor and now independent college counselor, guiding students through their college applications and essays through MoonPrep.com . Moon Prep's specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.

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Here you’ll find information about how best to be prepared to meet with your college/career counselor so that they can help you achieve your goals. They were really helpful when I was going through the college application process.

Direct admissions is all about colleges coming to students instead of the other way around. If a college knows they would welcome a student like you based on your grades and other credentials, you shouldn’t have to bend over backwards to get in.

Daily Writing Tips

20 great opening lines to inspire the start of your story.

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As Glinda the Good Witch says in The Wizard of Oz , “It’s always best to start at the beginning.” That’s where editors and literary agents generally get going, so perhaps you should, too. Here are some strategies, accompanied by exemplars from literature, for making the first line of your novel or short story stand out so that the reader can’t help but go on to the second and the third and so on to see what else you have to say:

“‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” — Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond

Are you in the mood for amusement? This opening line makes it clear that farce is in force.

“The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.” — G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Astute observations accompanied by a implied sigh of disgust are tricky to master, but Chesterton, one of the most multifaceted men of letters, lights the way for you with this sample of the form.

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” — William Gibson, Neuromancer

Oh, by the way, just in case you missed the forecast? Don’t expect any fluffy bunnies or fragrant blossoms or dulcet giggles to show up in this seminal cyberpunk story. A spot-on metaphor expresses the story’s nihilism, letting you know what you’re in for and lugubriously inviting you in.

4. Confiding

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” — C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The author of the Chronicles of Narnia no sooner introduces by name a new character in the latest installment than, in just five more words, he succeeds in telling you everything you need to know about him. Well, got that out of the way.

“Justice? — You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” — William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own

Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning — and maybe the bed’s shoved up against the wall, and that attitude is a permanent condition. The stage is set for an unhappy beginning, middle, and ending.

6. Disorienting

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — George Orwell, 1984

Ho-hum — huh? Orwell’s opening line creates a slight but immediate discordance that sets you up for an unsettling experience.

7. Enigmatic

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” — Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups

It will not surprise you to learn that the protagonist sets about retracing her steps and striving to correct the error, but after reading this subtle but striking first line, can you resist finding out how she does it?

8. Epigrammatic

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” — L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between

This offbeat observation from Hartley’s novel of painful reminiscence is a blindsidingly original statement that one will feel compelled to read about just how the writer acquired this wisdom.

9. Expository

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen, and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.” — Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It

By the end of this paragraph, you already know a great deal about the narrator’s family (especially the father) — but thanks to the introduction, as clear as a snow-fed mountain river, you want to know more.

10. Foreboding

“I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.” — W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

The author is a bit intrusive here, true enough, but it is kind of him to let us know that we’re in for a bit of unpleasantness. But if he can express such profound reluctance, it must be quite a story.

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” — Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

Chandler, the master of hard-bitten crime noir, makes it obvious that this story is not going to end well. You can almost hear the smoky, whiskey-soured, world-weary narration in your head. And this quote comes from one of Chandler’s half-forgotten short stories.

12. Inviting

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Dickens extends his arm toward the passageway within, welcoming you to enter what promises to be an entertaining story.

13. Picaresque

“In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point.” — John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor

Oh, but you know this novel is going to be juicy. This snide introduction to the main character conveys a promise of a continuous feed of schadenfreude.

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” — Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Every once in a while there comes an opening line that seems to have an entire story folded up inside it. But it’s just the label on the envelope. And I challenge you to withstand the urge to open it up and read the message.

“We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” — Louise Erdrich, Tracks

A somber, stately metaphor draws us in despite the pervasively gloomy imagery.

16. Prefatory

“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

Many people associate Dickens with whimsy and eccentricity, but A Tale of Two Cities is a stern study of the insanity of mob rule, and this floridly eloquent prologue sets the stage like the presenter of a Shakespearean prologue: “Epic Ahead.”

17. Romantic

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” — Raphael Sabatini, Scaramouche

Romantic, that is, in the sense of lust for life, not love for another. This author of swashbucklers like The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood (and, of course, Scaramouche ) lets you know right away that you are about to meet someone larger than life.

18. Sarcastic

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Austen didn’t invent the word snark — but she certainly refined the application of the quality. Notice, though, how subtle this line is. It’s a bon mot — understated, yet with teeth behind that prim smile.

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Can you find it in your heart to forgive this young man his grievously bad attitude? More likely, you’ll be impressed by — and want to immerse yourself in more of — his insolence.

20. Unexpected

“Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.” — Ha Jin, Waiting

This seemingly pedestrian introduction upends itself with an intriguing premise that raises a question in the reader’s mind that must be answered.

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opening lines to essays

22 thoughts on “20 Great Opening Lines to Inspire the Start of Your Story”

Thanks for posting this list. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to start a writing day 🙂

Thank you for sharing these fabulous opening lines! I love Jane Austen — Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books.

This is fabulous – thanks for sharing!

Well I have to share my favourite opening lines now:

“It was the day my grandmother exploded!” – The Crow Road, Iain Banks

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” – I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

In fact the full opening from the Crow Road is even better:

“It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.”

I’m simultaneously inspired and intimidated. I can hardly imagine writing anything that draws readers in the way these introductions do. Must keep practicing!

What a great list of opening lines!

4, 5, 12, 17 & 20 are my favorites.

Thank you for compiling this list. I thought a lot about my own style and strategies while reading it, and I’m pretty much all over the place. I do notice my tendency to start each book with dialogue, whether the style is sarcastic, foreboding, or bleak etc. Most often, the dialogue is pushed behind a beginning paragraph during edits, changing the feel of the opening.

Thanks for the great read, Allure Van Sanz

I will always love “Once upon a time, ” the best.

Phew! I’m glad I didn’t bypass this e-mail. By the title, I thought this article was going to offer 20 sentences that subscribers could expand upon.

I love the format this article is in, though. 🙂 I knew these different types of beginnings existed, just not consciously.

I like the openner which is something like this:

“Well unlike last time when I got too involved and gave you the run arround, this time I’m going straight for the jugular and cut out all that crap about my private life”.

of course he doesn’t.

The author is Don von Elsner.

Superb! This is a charming, outstanding and quite practical posting. These devices are such wonderful tools to be used to enchant readers, create flows, spark drama, awaken minds… and so much more.

Practice is key. What I deeply love about such tools is they may be applied to so many forms of writing such as fiction, poetry and most other types of narrative. Even “tweets”!

With “tweets” in mind I will have a least 20 new tweets to apply and practice these ideas on today. I am cheating here a wee bit.

Creating tweets for “bestdeedswords”, helps understand how to apply these tools and also selfishly carves them into the dark caverns of my eclectic memory facilities. This is a simple personal way to store them for later use.

Mark, these great posts are very useful. Thanks for your hard work and research. Thanks so very much.

Personally, I like the way I have started all my stories. I love getting right to the action, and explaining later or in different, unique ways. I am only 14 and on my 3rd story.

Great post! I’ve been testing out story ideas at the Creative Copy Challenge and received favorable feedback. I think it’s time for me to write a novel.

Well unless someones already done it I think it would be not only right but, satisfying to have endings as well.

That’s the subject I’ve been researching today – one spot of advice I read was to leave the first and last lines until the novel was complete – I think it’s a useful excuse for procrastinators like me.

Great post! I’ve read some of these books and never really gave any thought to the reason why. Now I know.

These are all good lines. Good lines are what matter, not their location in the book. Go back and look at your favorite literature. Most of mine begin with ordinary lines. The opening sentence and paragraph do not truly need to stand out. All the better if they do, but it is not necessary.

All seem to have missed Snoopy’s classic: “It was a dark and stormy night.” One of my favourites.

Although the lines are intriguing, and certainly I am appreciative of this post, I am more impressed by the one who compiled it. Your comments and labels were as educational to read as the quotes themselves. Thank you for sparing the time to educate us both with the wit of others and your own unique style of narration to spur us onward to the end.

The opening line of a book I read freshman year of high school still sticks with me. “When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy.” -Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons I still think that to this day that line motivated me to read the book in half an afternoon.

I’ve always enjoyed the (usually ignored, always contradicted) first line of “Gone With the Wind:”

‘Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful… though her suitors rarely took notice of this when as enthralled by her charm as the Tarleton twins.’

I love this article! This was great!!! My favorites were 1, 5, and 6! I used something similar to 6 in my book! Too funny!!!

I made this one up: When I was overtaken by poisonous vines, I never thought I would grow wings.

And also this- The teacher said “if John has nine pancakes, and Adam gives him eighteen pencils, why are ant green?” I knew, of course, that the answer was horses have six legs, but I let a newer student get it wrong. “It’s because aliens don’t wear hats.” his words went up in pitch at the end, showing he was unsure. The teacher said,” try again, Mark.”

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  • Let Me Introduce Myself

First lines from the application essays of Stanford’s newest class.

Reading time min

Let Me Introduce Myself

Illustration: Nick Dewar

IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that a high school student in possession of a good résumé must still be in want of a personal essay. In the best of times and the worst of times, first impressions matter. Any student who hopes to be the hero of his own life will strive to write a great opening line.

Picture the dark and stormy nights and the rosy-fingered dawns during which college applicants for the Class of '12 took pen in hand. What would work best—a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream? A screaming comes across the sky as lines are written, then abandoned. The rewriting and editing seems to last till the clocks strike thirteen.

But at last their personal statements for the Common App are crafted. The undergraduate admissions staff, while evaluating students on their total merit, take notice of the first lines that make essay-reading a particular pleasure. We asked them to share some of their favorite openers from those students who, starting in September, can write, Call me Cardinal.

Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of a Bhimanagar slum dwelling in Bangalore, I ran my fingers across a fresh cut on my forehead.

I almost didn't live through September 11th, 2001.

When I was 8 years old, I shocked my family and a local archaeologist by discovering artifacts dating back almost 3,500 years.

When I was in eighth grade I couldn't read.

While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?

The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.

I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.

Cancer tried to defeat me, and it failed.

I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy—instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.

I have old hands.

Flying over enemy territory, I took in Beirut's beautiful skyline and wondered if under different circumstances I would have hopped on a bus and come here for my vacation. Instead, I saw the city from the window of a helicopter, in military uniform, my face camouflaged, on my way to a special operation deep behind enemy lines.

My younger sister, Jessica, arrived home one day reeling about the shirt that her friend had worn to school. It had simply read, “Genocide, Homicide, Suicide, Riverside.”

I'll never forget the day when my childhood nightmares about fighting gigantic trolls in the Lord of the Rings series became a reality. Sword in hand and clad in medieval samurai armor, I dragged myself into the battleground as I faced my opponent, a warmongering giant.

Good Grief! You never would have guessed that an unassuming meek lovable loser like Charlie Brown would have an influence on anyone; but indeed he has.

Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage.

I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever crossed my mind.

As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.

Journey to Gulu's outskirts and you will uncover the scene where education was raped 11 years ago; some Ugandan teens also lost their innocence in exchange for their lives.

I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.

On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.

I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.

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Watch CBS News

10 Great Opening Lines from Stanford Admissions Essays

By Lynn O'Shaughnessy

Updated on: June 15, 2011 / 10:14 AM / MoneyWatch

Now that it's summer, you've got time to write a great college essay. And to get your college admissions essay off to the right start, begin with a captivating opening line.

Want examples? Here are samples from winning college essays courtesy of Stanford University . These are opening lines of admissions essays that the Stanford admission reps especially liked. All of the essay writers were accepted as members of the class of 2012. You can find even more opening lines of sample admission essays in the Stanford Magazine .

10 Opening Lines from Stanford Admission Essays

  • I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
  • When I was in the eighth grade I couldn't read.
  • While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
  • I have old hands.
  • I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever cross my mind.
  • I almost didn't live through September 11th, 2001.
  • The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
  • I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.
  • I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy -instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.
  • I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.

Read More on CBS MoneyWatch:


View all articles by Lynn O'Shaughnessy on CBS MoneyWatch» Lynn O'Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, consultant and speaker on issues that parents with college-bound teenagers face. She explains how families can make college more affordable through her website TheCollegeSolution.com ; her financial workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College ; and the new second edition of her Amazon best-selling book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price .

More from CBS News

A Celebration of Great Opening Lines in World Literature

Launched: January 1, 2022

This website is dedicated to the memory of John O. Huston (1945-2022)

An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know more about this.

Welcome to GreatOpeningLines.com , history’s first website devoted exclusively to the celebration of great opening lines in world literature. Even though the site is still in its infancy (it was officially “launched” on Jan. 1, 2022), it is already the world's largest online database of literary history’s greatest opening words, with 1889 current entries.

If you’re a writer or aspiring writer, an avid reader, an English teacher or creative writing instructor, a reference librarian, an editor, or simply a First Words junkie, think of this as your "Go-To" site on the subject. In addition to learning more than you now know about your current personal favorites, this site will introduce you to thousands of future favorites you might never have known about in any other way.

Be careful, though, as you begin to peruse the twenty-five “genres” below. Robert McCrum, the legendary British editor of four separate Nobel Prize laureates has warned that this "brilliant and fascinating literary site...will soon become every freelance writer's guilty pleasure."

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Jane Austen

Short Stories

"Early one June morning in 1872 I murdered my father—an act which made a deep impression on me at the time." Ambrose Bierce


"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women." Betty Friedan

Memoirs & Autobiographies

"I didn’t realize I was black until third grade." Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


"The black eyepatch dominated Moshe Dayan’s appearance, like some dark, spidery animal wrapped around his face." Robert Slater

Essays, Articles, & Columns

"These are the times that try men's souls." Thomas Paine

Children's Literature

"All children, except one, grow up." J. M. Barrie

Young Adult (YA) Fiction

"I'd never given much thought to how I would die — though I'd had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this." Stephenie Meyer


"It was a dazzling four-sun afternoon." Isaac Asimov

Speculative Fiction

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." Franz Kafka

Wit, Humor, Parody, & Satire

"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." C. Northcote Parkinson

War/Combat & Espionage/Spies

"A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which, to look ahead." Graham Greene

Cowboy/Western Tales

"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning." Louis L'Amour

Crime/Detective & Suspense/Thrillers

"When the guy with asthma finally came in from the fire escape, Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away." Richard Stark

History & Historical Fiction

"Jazz came to America three hundred years ago in chains." Paul Whiteman

Politics & Government

"A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests." Barbara Tuchman

Philosophy & Religion

"Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains." Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Words/Language & Writers/Books

"Writers will happen in the best of families. No one is quite sure why." Rita Mae Brown

Medicine & Health

"You know more than you think you do." Dr. Benjamin Spock

Sports, Fitness, & Recreation

"I was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one." Pat Conroy

Psychology & Self-Help

"How do you make contact with the mind of another person?" Mortimer J. Adler

Sex, Love, Marriage, & Family

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." Neil Postman

Travel, Food & Drink

"An oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life." M.K.F. Fisher

Science & Technology

"It is not easy to cut through a human head with a hacksaw." Michael Crichton

Race, Gender, & Ethnicity

"I have rape-colored skin." Caroline Randall Williams

Accolades & Acknowledgments

About this site.

Welcome to history’s first website devoted exclusively to the celebration of great opening lines in world literature. My goal is to make this the world's largest online database of Great Opening Lines in both Fiction and Non-Fiction. If you’re a writer or aspiring writer, an avid reader, an English teacher or creative writing instructor, a reference librarian, an editor, or simply a First Words junkie, think of this as your "Go-To" site on the subject. In addition to learning more than you now know about your current personal favorites, this site will introduce you to thousands of future favorites you might never know about in any other way.

Dr. Mardy Grothe

Dr. Mardy Grothe

Become a supporter.

My goal is to make this a completely ad-free site, but this will be possible only with sufficient financial support.

To produce a world-class website, I’d appreciate any help you can provide. Become a Site Sponsor with a one-time donation at one of four sponsorship levels, indicated below.

Make checks payable to: GreatOpeningLines.com P. O. Box 802 Southern Pines, NC 28388

Or use the electronic payment options below:

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  • Knowledge Base

The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay | Steps & Examples

An academic essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an idea or argument using evidence, analysis, and interpretation.

There are many types of essays you might write as a student. The content and length of an essay depends on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most essays at university level are argumentative — they aim to persuade the reader of a particular position or perspective on a topic.

The essay writing process consists of three main stages:

  • Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline.
  • Writing : Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
  • Revision:  Check the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.

Table of contents

Essay writing process, preparation for writing an essay, writing the introduction, writing the main body, writing the conclusion, essay checklist, lecture slides, frequently asked questions about writing an essay.

The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay .

For example, if you’ve been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you’ll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay , on the other hand, you’ll need to spend more time researching your topic and developing an original argument before you start writing.

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opening lines to essays

Before you start writing, you should make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. There are a few key steps you can follow to make sure you’re prepared:

  • Understand your assignment: What is the goal of this essay? What is the length and deadline of the assignment? Is there anything you need to clarify with your teacher or professor?
  • Define a topic: If you’re allowed to choose your own topic , try to pick something that you already know a bit about and that will hold your interest.
  • Do your research: Read  primary and secondary sources and take notes to help you work out your position and angle on the topic. You’ll use these as evidence for your points.
  • Come up with a thesis:  The thesis is the central point or argument that you want to make. A clear thesis is essential for a focused essay—you should keep referring back to it as you write.
  • Create an outline: Map out the rough structure of your essay in an outline . This makes it easier to start writing and keeps you on track as you go.

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to discuss, in what order, and what evidence you’ll use, you’re ready to start writing.

The introduction sets the tone for your essay. It should grab the reader’s interest and inform them of what to expect. The introduction generally comprises 10–20% of the text.

1. Hook your reader

The first sentence of the introduction should pique your reader’s interest and curiosity. This sentence is sometimes called the hook. It might be an intriguing question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement emphasizing the relevance of the topic.

Let’s say we’re writing an essay about the development of Braille (the raised-dot reading and writing system used by visually impaired people). Our hook can make a strong statement about the topic:

The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.

2. Provide background on your topic

Next, it’s important to give context that will help your reader understand your argument. This might involve providing background information, giving an overview of important academic work or debates on the topic, and explaining difficult terms. Don’t provide too much detail in the introduction—you can elaborate in the body of your essay.

3. Present the thesis statement

Next, you should formulate your thesis statement— the central argument you’re going to make. The thesis statement provides focus and signals your position on the topic. It is usually one or two sentences long. The thesis statement for our essay on Braille could look like this:

As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness.

4. Map the structure

In longer essays, you can end the introduction by briefly describing what will be covered in each part of the essay. This guides the reader through your structure and gives a preview of how your argument will develop.

The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by blind and visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.

Write your essay introduction

The body of your essay is where you make arguments supporting your thesis, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. Its purpose is to present, interpret, and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument.

Length of the body text

The length of the body depends on the type of essay. On average, the body comprises 60–80% of your essay. For a high school essay, this could be just three paragraphs, but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8–10 pages.

Paragraph structure

To give your essay a clear structure , it is important to organize it into paragraphs . Each paragraph should be centered around one main point or idea.

That idea is introduced in a  topic sentence . The topic sentence should generally lead on from the previous paragraph and introduce the point to be made in this paragraph. Transition words can be used to create clear connections between sentences.

After the topic sentence, present evidence such as data, examples, or quotes from relevant sources. Be sure to interpret and explain the evidence, and show how it helps develop your overall argument.

Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.

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The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. It should generally take up no more than 10–15% of the text . A strong essay conclusion :

  • Returns to your thesis
  • Ties together your main points
  • Shows why your argument matters

A great conclusion should finish with a memorable or impactful sentence that leaves the reader with a strong final impression.

What not to include in a conclusion

To make your essay’s conclusion as strong as possible, there are a few things you should avoid. The most common mistakes are:

  • Including new arguments or evidence
  • Undermining your arguments (e.g. “This is just one approach of many”)
  • Using concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…”

Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.

Write your essay conclusion

Checklist: Essay

My essay follows the requirements of the assignment (topic and length ).

My introduction sparks the reader’s interest and provides any necessary background information on the topic.

My introduction contains a thesis statement that states the focus and position of the essay.

I use paragraphs to structure the essay.

I use topic sentences to introduce each paragraph.

Each paragraph has a single focus and a clear connection to the thesis statement.

I make clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas.

My conclusion doesn’t just repeat my points, but draws connections between arguments.

I don’t introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion.

I have given an in-text citation for every quote or piece of information I got from another source.

I have included a reference page at the end of my essay, listing full details of all my sources.

My citations and references are correctly formatted according to the required citation style .

My essay has an interesting and informative title.

I have followed all formatting guidelines (e.g. font, page numbers, line spacing).

Your essay meets all the most important requirements. Our editors can give it a final check to help you submit with confidence.

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An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.

In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.

Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.

The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.

The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.

Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:

  • An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
  • Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
  • A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

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5 Phrases To Start Your Personal Essay That Will Impress Ivy League Admissions Officers

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CAMBRIDGE, MA - SEPTEMBER 12: Freshman Winston Yan enters the Admissions Building at Harvard ... [+] University September 12, 2006 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard is eliminating early admissions beginning next year because of criticism that it favors wealthier students and hinders those seeking financial aid since the deadlines for aid are much later. (Photo by Glen Cooper/Getty Images)

The personal essay is a critical opportunity for college applicants to showcase their creativity, original perspectives, and unique qualifications for admission. Crafting a dynamic and engaging essay can give students dimension beyond their test scores and GPAs and enable them to distinguish themselves from thousands of other applicants in the admissions process. All of this begins with a compelling starting phrase.

The first sentence of an applicant’s personal essay should immediately catch the attention of the admissions reader and spark their curiosity to learn more about the applicant. Every student brings a unique perspective and background to the essay and should lean into their experiences and distinct voice as they brainstorm their opening lines. However, for students who are struggling to put their thoughts on the page, here are seven types of opening phrases to ignite your creativity as you begin the writing process:

1. The “In Media Res” Approach

I pulled my knees in tight toward my chest and swallowed the sobs that threatened to burst from the depths of my throat. As the rain pelted the top of my tent, the question played incessantly in my mind: why did I think that a wilderness survival camp would be a fun way to spend my summer?

One of the most expeditious ways to capture a reader’s attention is by thrusting them into the action of your story. Doing so allows you to “show” rather than “tell”—instead of getting bogged down in verbose set-ups that explain the lead-up to your story, beginning in the middle of the story before zooming out to provide brief, necessary context will immerse the reader in your experience.

2. The Direct Dialogue

“What were we thinking?!” Sarah said, vocalizing the words that had been echoing in my head. “We could have done a normal project like everyone else!”

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Like with the “In Media Res” approach, beginning with direct dialogue allows you to begin your essay at an engaging point in your narrative while also giving a voice to some of the people who play a role in your story. Keep in mind that while one line of dialogue in the beginning of your essay can be a compelling way to kick off the action, the personal essay is not lengthy enough to include full conversations—so, while the quote you choose does not have to be ground-breaking or all-encompassing, it does have to progress your narrative without requiring extensive back-and-forth dialogue.

3. The Unexpected Declaration

There is an elephant in every room I walk into.

This approach to the personal statement requires you to examine a particular experience, quality, or perspective that you want to share with the admissions committee from a new angle. For instance, the student writing an essay with the above first line could use the metaphor of the “elephant” for their experience of living with a disability or being a minority student at a racially homogenous high school. Exploring that aspect of their identity by weaving in the idea of an “elephant” preceding them into the room offers the admissions committee a vivid and unique mechanism for understanding the student’s experience.

4. The History Lesson

In 1975, an Indian inventor was faced with a problem—Mohammad Saidullah was perpetually late to meet his wife after work. Determined to fix the problem, he put his innovation skills to the test and ended up developing the first amphibious cycle, a bicycle that could transition seamlessly from land to water.

Beginning with a “fun fact” or a historical anecdote that interests or inspires you is an engaging way to pull the reader in and demonstrate your interests. If you take this approach, first make sure that the anecdote you share is something that truly captures your imagination or curiosity—simply Googling a historic fact and trying to graft it into your essay will result in a disjointed and generic essay. In addition, the essay should meaningfully and adeptly connect the statement to one of the distinct qualities you want to highlight to admissions officers. In the example provided, the student may choose to connect Saidullah’s response to his tardiness to the student’s own creative approach to solving problems they have faced. Grounding the anecdote in an astute reflection about your own story and worldview is essential.

5. The Cherished Object

Tucked away on the corner of my cluttered desk sits a weathered sketchbook. Its once vibrant cover has faded over time; its pages are now dog-eared and smudged with graphite.

Describing an object that carries unique significance for you can provide a gateway to discuss your passions and experiences while showcasing your writing skills and capacity for introspection. Exploring the symbolism behind the object allows you to convey complex ideas and emotions in a tangible and relatable way. However, keeping the essay focused on you is key—use the object as a vehicle for discussing your values, story and perspectives in a creative way.

The personal essay is your opportunity to distinguish yourself and captivate the admissions committee with your story. Each approach mentioned above would bring its own unique flavor to your personal essay. As you choose the best one for your essay, consider the aspects of yourself you wish to highlight, the message you want to convey, and the tone you wish to set. For more information about tackling the personal essay, check out this extensive guide .

Christopher Rim

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How to Write a Strong Opening Sentence & Hook Readers

POSTED ON Jun 29, 2021

Gloria Russell

Written by Gloria Russell

How many times have you picked a random show on Netflix, tried it, and then given up because it just didn’t quite hit? Those first five minutes or so are vital, and showrunners know it. A strong opening scene is everything. If you’re not hooked, you’re not going to keep watching, and once you’ve clicked off, there’s a big chance you’ll never come back. 

It’s not so different when you’re writing a book! Readers make judgments super quickly. Your opening scene is no exception.

First they’ll judge your cover and whatever excerpt or blurb you’ve got on the back, and then you’ve got that first chapter or prologue to catch them. 

Think about the last time you went to a bookstore. Even after a cover caught your eye, even after the synopsis sounded pretty good, how many books did you put back on the shelf when the first few paragraphs just didn’t land? 

In this article, we’ll teach you how to write a stellar first sentence to hook your reader and ensure that they not only buy your book, but stay invested all the way through! 

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This guide on how to write a strong opening sentence covers:

  • Asking a question
  • Hooking your reader's emotions
  • Starting in media res
  • Making it matter
  • Examples of strong opening sentences
  • Why is the first sentence important?
  • Establishing tone
  • Engaging your reader
  • Introducing key concepts

How to Write a Strong Opening Sentence

In the same way that a compelling opening shot will hook a moviegoer or Netflix-scroller, a compelling opening sentence will hook your reader. 

That feels like a lot of pressure! But it’s not that hard. Here are a few ways to catch your reader’s interest right off the bat: 

1. Ask a question 

I don’t mean to literally ask your reader a question–this would probably come off as a little cheesy, and you almost never address the reader in a fictional narrative. I mean do so with a scenario in the opening scene to add mystery and intrigue to your story.

When I say ‘ask a question,’ what I mean is to present a question to your reader. Make them wonder what the heck is going on, and make them want to find out. 

This is especially effective in short or flash fiction , when it’s important to introduce the central conflict as soon as possible. But in all forms of fiction, long-form or short-form, getting into some conflict will get your reader on board. 

2. Hook your reader’s emotions 

Humans are empathetic–this is why we read in the first place! We want to hear about what people are going through and watch them overcome insurmountable obstacles to win wars, fall in love, whatever the case may be. 

Open with a strong emotion. Describe the sadness or delight a character feels, or the strong emotion of the current scene. This will help your reader relate to your character quickly, and once they’ve related to your character, they’ll want to follow them into the story . 

3. Start in medias res 

This one’s my personal favorite.

In medias res means, roughly, ‘in the middle of the action.’ Drop your reader right in the middle of the good stuff. Maybe your rogue is mid-heist, and things are looking sketchy. This is a strong opening scene, you see this often in Hollywood, they then reveal it as a flashback to start the story.

Maybe your protagonist is in the middle of being fired from their big-city job, which will send them back into the arms of their small-town crush. 

4. Make it matter 

Whatever you do, don’t make it boring. If the first sentence of your story is a piece of exposition, or a long-winded description of landscape, your reader’s gonna get bored and find something else. 

Remember: readers are attached to people and their emotions. If you can’t open with conflict, at least open with people facing some sort of dilemma, and preferably feeling some kind of way about it. 

Related: 4 Exposition Mistakes

Examples of Strong Opening Sentences to Learn From 

One of the best ways to learn how to do something well is to watch how it's been done by professionals. There's a ton you can learn from these opening lines, just don't copy them exactly (obviously). Remember the opening scene creates space for dialogue, development, and questions from the reader.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George:

“My dearest Catherine: I am dying. Or rather, about to die–there is a slight (though unconsoling) difference.” 

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut:

“All this happened, more or less.” 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman:

“Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough, and looked don’t-f***-with-me-enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.” 

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer:

“I'd never given much thought to how I would die – though I'd had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson:

“Congratulations. The fact you’re reading this means you’ve taken one giant step closer to surviving till your next birthday. Yes, you, standing there leafing through these pages. Do not put this book down. I’m dead serious–your life could depend on it.” 

“The funny thing about facing imminent death is that it really snaps everything else into perspective. Take right now, for instance.” 

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan:

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to live a normal life.” 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt:

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we began to realize the gravity of our situation.” 

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” 

Bunny by Mona Awad :

“We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.” 

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbricht:

“For a long time, he didn’t have a name. What he had were white long fingers that hooked into purses and a mouth that told easy lies.” 

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff:

“People often sh*t themselves when they die.”

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone:

“When Red wins, she stands alone. Blood slicks her hair. She breathes out steam in the last night of this dying world.” 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” 

The H8 U Give by Angie Thomas:

“I shouldn’t have come to this party. I’m not even sure I belong at this party. That’s not on some bougie shit, either. There are just some places where it’s not enough to be me. Neither version of me.” 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:

“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I barely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.” 

Paradise by Toni Morrion:

“They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they take their time.”

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones:

“My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” 

The Martian by Andy Weir:

“I’m pretty much f*cked.” 

Why is the first sentence important? 

So, okay, what’s the deal with all this ‘first sentence’ stuff anyway? Surely it can’t be that important to have a stellar first sentence in a book with about a billion sentences. You must pay close attention to this tendency to dismiss parts of the process. Your opening scene needs to be strong because without it, your audience may lose interest and never get to your great scenes later.

Well, it is…and it isn’t 

When it comes to novels , it’s fair to say that your first sentence doesn’t necessarily have to be an eye-catching, one-of-a-kind showstopper. And in fact, putting way too much effort on a standout first sentence can read as forced and mess with the flow. 

It’s really more about your first paragraph than your first sentence, and even then, it’s more about your first page than your first paragraph. 

However: thinking carefully about that very first sentence will set you up for a better first page. You want to start in the best possible spot, and focusing on your first sentence will help you do that! 

Establishing tone in your opening sentence

In almost all of the examples I listed, especially the ones which open Young Adult novels, the sentences had a very strong tone. Your first sentence is a great place to establish what sort of a tone you’ll take for the rest of the piece–it helps you start strong, and it gives your reader a great idea of what to expect in the coming pages. 

Is your book funny? Open with something snarky, like James Patterson does with Maximum Ride. Is it introspective? Open with something moody, like Stephanie Meyer does with Twilight. Let the reader get a taste of what you’ll be serving them! 

Engaging your reader 

Most obviously, your first sentence will help you hook your reader. If you can get them on board to read the first sentence, they’ll be on board to read the first paragraph, and once they’ve turned the first page for more? You’re in the clear. 

Look at openers like Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. He starts off with a clear voice, which the reader can expect through the rest of the series , and he starts with a warning for the reader to put the book down. Any childhood fan of Percy Jackson can tell you that it was reading that warning that got them hooked for good! 

It’s true that some books are slow burns, and readers get invested over time. But you’ve got the opportunity to grab their attention on the first page , so why not use it? 

Introducing key concepts in your book's opening

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not always possible to establish the core conflict of your novel on that first page. Sometimes that conflict simply hasn’t had the chance to come about yet! In The Goldfinch, for example, we can’t really get into the conflict until the bomb goes off in the museum, and it would be a little weird to start with that. 

That being said: you can still use your first sentence to introduce the key themes and concepts you’ll discuss in your novel. This is par for the course on writing a novel .

Twilight, for example, deals intensely with Bella’s mortality, so we open with her confronting it head-on. The H8 U Give introduces Starr’s internal conflict–the book goes on to deal with how she struggles with her identity as a Black teenager, and in that first paragraph, she’s talking about the different versions of herself and how she feels about them. 

What’s the best opening line you’ve ever read? What’s the best one you’ve ever written? Let us know in the comments! 

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60+ First Line Writing Prompts

Did you know that the opening line of a story is one of the hardest parts of writing a great book? Spark your imagination with these 100+first line writing prompts for all ages! These simple one-liners are the perfect way to get those creative juices flowing and find inspiration for your next big short story or flash fiction . 

We have a mix of first-line writing prompts, ranging from fantasy prompts to non-fictional and realistic events. As well as prompts written in the first and third-person view. The one-line writing prompts in this post are a great way to challenge yourself to write something new. In fact, you can even set yourself a challenge to write at least 300 words every day for each of these cool prompts!

60+ Random First Line Writing Prompts

Here are over 60 one-line opening sentences to help you write your next big story:

  •  “Er… I hate this song. Why is it always playing on the radio?”
  • Every story has a hero and I’m the hero of this one.
  • Thunder rattled outside, as Emily tossed and turned trying to sleep.
  • Life wasn’t great at all for Mr Pea. It wasn’t even mildly good. 
  • They keep calling me “special”, but what’s so special about me?
  • Gavin was always getting the best presents. For once I wish I could be like him.
  • Balloons popping, confetti dropping and food flying. That’s how Katie spent her birthday each year. 
  • Every night, Peter went out to save the world in his own little way. 
  • If dogs could speak, then Spike would be thanking Chris right now.
  •  Money is everything. 
  •  Was it really Jane’s fault?
  •  Every day the same thing keeps happening.
  •  For the first time in her life, Janie felt powerful.
  •  5 AM and still no phone call.
  •  Mom’s always telling me to come straight home. 
  •  There’s an old legend that talks about magical fairies living in the forest. 
  •  Snow fell, as Clarissa made her way home.
  •  After the accident, Nelson never felt safe again.
  •  Katie’s living the dream up in the hills of Hollywood.
  •  The world seemed like such a big place, until the recent discovery in Antarctica. 
  •  “Dear diary, today I learned something about myself…” Katie mumbled to herself. 
  •  Blinded by a bright light outside his window, Jake jumped up in horror.
  •  Sitting at his computer, Martin noticed something odd about his favourite computer game.
  •  Rain trembled down the window, as the car radio played in the background. 
  •  “Ready or not, here I come!” shouted Millie in the distance. 
  • Once upon a time, there lived a young prince with extraordinary powers. 
  •  James had it all, but still, it was not enough.
  •  Her red hair glistened in the sun, as she walked across the car park. 
  •  Mel was always haunted by her dreams. 
  •  “Shhhh! It’s your turn now” whispered Kelly. 
  •  The room was a dump, as Jack frantically searched every corner. 
  •  This time daddy brought a strange teddy bear home.
  •  There’s no cure for a beast like me. 
  •  People ran inside their homes, as the alarm rang. 
  •  Tracking through the woods, Christian found something strange. 
  •  Home. What is home anyway?
  •  Legend says that if you breathe in and out ten times in front of a mirror something strange happens.
  •  Tick… tock… tick… tock… time was going so slow. 
  •  The pain was too much, he had to leave right now.
  •  Slipping out of reach, she lost it forever.
  •  Money, clothes, food, everything you need for a quick getaway. 
  •  In the faraway kingdom of Rainbow Popsicles, everything was sweet, apart from one strange-looking thing. 
  •  In the damp streets of Manhattan, there lived a fierce little cat. 
  •  Being the ‘odd one out’, the ‘weird’ one wasn’t fun at all.
  •  “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Shelly screamed in her sleep.
  •  Some say the number 7 is unlucky, but to me, it wasn’t.
  •  Every Saturday, Joe went to his Grandma’s house, but something was very different this week. 
  •  Chores, chores and more chores.
  •  For once I wish I could get my way.
  •  The sun shone brightly on Oakland farm, but not all was bright.
  •  “I got one! I got one!” shrieked Sally, jumping up and down in excitement.
  •  She was everything I wanted to be and more. 
  •   The same words over and over again scattered all over the floor. 
  •  The scariest creatures lived deep in the forest where no-one ever went. 
  •  “Abra Kadabra, turn these ripped trainers into the fastest trainers in the world!” exclaimed Victor. 
  •  The desert-like sun burned his skin as he lay scorching in the sand. 
  •  The sound of rustling leaves turned George’s heart to stone. 
  •  Sunny Slimeville was just a normal town with a funny name. 
  •  The phone did not stop ringing all week.
  •  Another tea party, another game. 
  •  How’s a country girl like me ever going to survive the big city?
  •  Did you know that not all zombies eat brains?

How To Use These One-Line Writing Prompts

There are a number of ways you can use these first-line writing prompts to inspire your story writing , such as:

  • Pick one of the opening sentences and free-write for at least 60 seconds. Don’t stop to think, just keep on writing whatever comes to mind! 
  • Don’t keep skipping through all of the prompts above. Challenge yourself and give the ‘hard’ or ‘boring’ ones a go! You never know how they’ll inspire you unless you give them a go. 
  • Feel free to adapt these first-line writing prompts in any way you like. You can change the character names, point of view and any other details you feel like.
  • Explore your imagination. Don’t be afraid to add more characters, add conflict, add dialogue , add anything you like to really have fun with these prompts!

For more inspiration, check out this list of over 150 story starters . Now go and choose an opening sentence from the above list! And if it inspires you to write something cool, let us know in the comments! You can even publish your story online – Just sign-up to create your free account .

60 First Line Writing Prompts

Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.

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15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines (And How to Create Your Own)

Hrideep barot.

  • Public Speaking , Speech Writing

powerful speech opening

Powerful speech opening lines set the tone and mood of your speech. It’s what grips the audience to want to know more about the rest of your talk.

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The first few seconds are critical. It’s when you have maximum attention of the audience. And you must capitalize on that!

Instead of starting off with something plain and obvious such as a ‘Thank you’ or ‘Good Morning’, there’s so much more you can do for a powerful speech opening (here’s a great article we wrote a while ago on how you should NOT start your speech ).

To help you with this, I’ve compiled some of my favourite openings from various speakers. These speakers have gone on to deliver TED talks , win international Toastmaster competitions or are just noteworthy people who have mastered the art of communication.

After each speaker’s opening line, I have added how you can include their style of opening into your own speech. Understanding how these great speakers do it will certainly give you an idea to create your own speech opening line which will grip the audience from the outset!

Alright! Let’s dive into the 15 powerful speech openings…

Note: Want to take your communications skills to the next level? Book a complimentary consultation with one of our expert communication coaches. We’ll look under the hood of your hurdles and pick two to three growth opportunities so you can speak with impact!

1. Ric Elias

Opening: “Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D.”

How to use the power of imagination to open your speech?

Putting your audience in a state of imagination can work extremely well to captivate them for the remainder of your talk.

It really helps to bring your audience in a certain mood that preps them for what’s about to come next. Speakers have used this with high effectiveness by transporting their audience into an imaginary land to help prove their point.

When Ric Elias opened his speech, the detail he used (3000 ft, sound of the engine going clack-clack-clack) made me feel that I too was in the plane. He was trying to make the audience experience what he was feeling – and, at least in my opinion, he did.

When using the imagination opening for speeches, the key is – detail. While we want the audience to wander into imagination, we want them to wander off to the image that we want to create for them. So, detail out your scenario if you’re going to use this technique.

Make your audience feel like they too are in the same circumstance as you were when you were in that particular situation.

2. Barack Obama

Opening: “You can’t say it, but you know it’s true.”

3. Seth MacFarlane

Opening: “There’s nowhere I would rather be on a day like this than around all this electoral equipment.” (It was raining)

How to use humour to open your speech?

When you use humour in a manner that suits your personality, it can set you up for a great speech. Why? Because getting a laugh in the first 30 seconds or so is a great way to quickly get the audience to like you.

And when they like you, they are much more likely to listen to and believe in your ideas.

Obama effortlessly uses his opening line to entice laughter among the audience. He brilliantly used the setting (the context of Trump becoming President) and said a line that completely matched his style of speaking.

Saying a joke without really saying a joke and getting people to laugh requires you to be completely comfortable in your own skin. And that’s not easy for many people (me being one of them).

If the joke doesn’t land as expected, it could lead to a rocky start.

Keep in mind the following when attempting to deliver a funny introduction:

  • Know your audience: Make sure your audience gets the context of the joke (if it’s an inside joke among the members you’re speaking to, that’s even better!). You can read this article we wrote where we give you tips on how you can actually get to know your audience better to ensure maximum impact with your speech openings
  • The joke should suit your natural personality. Don’t make it look forced or it won’t elicit the desired response
  • Test the opening out on a few people who match your real audience. Analyze their response and tweak the joke accordingly if necessary
  • Starting your speech with humour means your setting the tone of your speech. It would make sense to have a few more jokes sprinkled around the rest of the speech as well as the audience might be expecting the same from you

4. Mohammed Qahtani

Opening: Puts a cigarette on his lips, lights a lighter, stops just before lighting the cigarette. Looks at audience, “What?”

5. Darren Tay

Opening: Puts a white pair of briefs over his pants.

How to use props to begin your speech?

The reason props work so well in a talk is because in most cases the audience is not expecting anything more than just talking. So when a speaker pulls out an object that is unusual, everyone’s attention goes right to it.

It makes you wonder why that prop is being used in this particular speech.

The key word here is unusual . To grip the audience’s attention at the beginning of the speech, the prop being used should be something that the audience would never expect. Otherwise, it just becomes something that is common. And common = boring!

What Mohammed Qahtani and Darren Tay did superbly well in their talks was that they used props that nobody expected them to.

By pulling out a cigarette and lighter or a white pair of underwear, the audience can’t help but be gripped by what the speaker is about to do next. And that makes for a powerful speech opening.

6. Simon Sinek

Opening: “How do you explain when things don’t go as we assume? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?”

7. Julian Treasure

Opening: “The human voice. It’s the instrument we all play. It’s the most powerful sound in the world. Probably the only one that can start a war or say “I love you.” And yet many people have the experience that when they speak people don’t listen to them. Why is that? How can we speak powerfully to make change in the world?”

How to use questions to open a speech?

I use this method often. Starting off with a question is the simplest way to start your speech in a manner that immediately engages the audience.

But we should keep our questions compelling as opposed to something that is fairly obvious.

I’ve heard many speakers start their speeches with questions like “How many of us want to be successful?”

No one is going to say ‘no’ to that and frankly, I just feel silly raising my hand at such questions.

Simon Sinek and Jullian Treasure used questions in a manner that really made the audience think and make them curious to find out what the answer to that question is.

What Jullian Treasure did even better was the use of a few statements which built up to his question. This made the question even more compelling and set the theme for what the rest of his talk would be about.

So think of what question you can ask in your speech that will:

  • Set the theme for the remainder of your speech
  • Not be something that is fairly obvious
  • Be compelling enough so that the audience will actually want to know what the answer to that question will be

8. Aaron Beverley

Opening: Long pause (after an absurdly long introduction of a 57-word speech title). “Be honest. You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”

How to use silence for speech openings?

The reason this speech opening stands out is because of the fact that the title itself is 57 words long. The audience was already hilariously intrigued by what was going to come next.

But what’s so gripping here is the way Aaron holds the crowd’s suspense by…doing nothing. For about 10 to 12 seconds he did nothing but stand and look at the audience. Everyone quietened down. He then broke this silence by a humorous remark that brought the audience laughing down again.

When going on to open your speech, besides focusing on building a killer opening sentence, how about just being silent?

It’s important to keep in mind that the point of having a strong opening is so that the audience’s attention is all on you and are intrigued enough to want to listen to the rest of your speech.

Silence is a great way to do that. When you get on the stage, just pause for a few seconds (about 3 to 5 seconds) and just look at the crowd. Let the audience and yourself settle in to the fact that the spotlight is now on you.

I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something about starting the speech off with a pure pause that just makes the beginning so much more powerful. It adds credibility to you as a speaker as well, making you look more comfortable and confident on stage. 

If you want to know more about the power of pausing in public speaking , check out this post we wrote. It will give you a deeper insight into the importance of pausing and how you can harness it for your own speeches. You can also check out this video to know more about Pausing for Public Speaking:

9. Dan Pink

Opening: “I need to make a confession at the outset here. Little over 20 years ago, I did something that I regret. Something that I’m not particularly proud of. Something that in many ways I wish no one would ever know but that here I feel kind of obliged to reveal.”

10. Kelly McGonigal

Opening: “I have a confession to make. But first I want you to make a little confession to me.”

How to use a build-up to open your speech?

When there are so many amazing ways to start a speech and grip an audience from the outset, why would you ever choose to begin your speech with a ‘Good morning?’.

That’s what I love about build-ups. They set the mood for something awesome that’s about to come in that the audience will feel like they just have to know about.

Instead of starting a speech as it is, see if you can add some build-up to your beginning itself. For instance, in Kelly McGonigal’s speech, she could have started off with the question of stress itself (which she eventually moves on to in her speech). It’s not a bad way to start the speech.

But by adding the statement of “I have a confession to make” and then not revealing the confession for a little bit, the audience is gripped to know what she’s about to do next and find out what indeed is her confession.

11. Tim Urban

Opening: “So in college, I was a government major. Which means that I had to write a lot of papers. Now when a normal student writes a paper, they might spread the work out a little like this.”

12. Scott Dinsmore

Opening: “8 years ago, I got the worst career advice of my life.”

How to use storytelling as a speech opening?

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.” Steve Jobs

Storytelling is the foundation of good speeches. Starting your speech with a story is a great way to grip the audience’s attention. It makes them yearn to want to know how the rest of the story is going to pan out.

Tim Urban starts off his speech with a story dating back to his college days. His use of slides is masterful and something we all can learn from. But while his story sounds simple, it does the job of intriguing the audience to want to know more.

As soon as I heard the opening lines, I thought to myself “If normal students write their paper in a certain manner, how does Tim write his papers?”

Combine such a simple yet intriguing opening with comedic slides, and you’ve got yourself a pretty gripping speech.

Scott Dismore’s statement has a similar impact. However, just a side note, Scott Dismore actually started his speech with “Wow, what an honour.”

I would advise to not start your talk with something such as that. It’s way too common and does not do the job an opening must, which is to grip your audience and set the tone for what’s coming.

13. Larry Smith

Opening: “I want to discuss with you this afternoon why you’re going to fail to have a great career.”

14. Jane McGonigal

Opening: “You will live 7.5 minutes longer than you would have otherwise, just because you watched this talk.”

How to use provocative statements to start your speech?

Making a provocative statement creates a keen desire among the audience to want to know more about what you have to say. It immediately brings everyone into attention.

Larry Smith did just that by making his opening statement surprising, lightly humorous, and above all – fearful. These elements lead to an opening statement which creates so much curiosity among the audience that they need to know how your speech pans out.

This one time, I remember seeing a speaker start a speech with, “Last week, my best friend committed suicide.” The entire crowd was gripped. Everyone could feel the tension in the room.

They were just waiting for the speaker to continue to know where this speech will go.

That’s what a hard-hitting statement does, it intrigues your audience so much that they can’t wait to hear more! Just a tip, if you do start off with a provocative, hard-hitting statement, make sure you pause for a moment after saying it.

Silence after an impactful statement will allow your message to really sink in with the audience.

Related article: 5 Ways to Grab Your Audience’s Attention When You’re Losing it!

15. Ramona J Smith

Opening: In a boxing stance, “Life would sometimes feel like a fight. The punches, jabs and hooks will come in the form of challenges, obstacles and failures. Yet if you stay in the ring and learn from those past fights, at the end of each round, you’ll be still standing.”

How to use your full body to grip the audience at the beginning of your speech?

In a talk, the audience is expecting you to do just that – talk. But when you enter the stage and start putting your full body into use in a way that the audience does not expect, it grabs their attention.

Body language is critical when it comes to public speaking. Hand gestures, stage movement, facial expressions are all things that need to be paid attention to while you’re speaking on stage. But that’s not I’m talking about here.

Here, I’m referring to a unique use of the body that grips the audience, like how Ramona did. By using her body to get into a boxing stance, imitating punches, jabs and hooks with her arms while talking – that’s what got the audience’s attention.

The reason I say this is so powerful is because if you take Ramona’s speech and remove the body usage from her opening, the entire magic of the opening falls flat.

While the content is definitely strong, without those movements, she would not have captured the audience’s attention as beautifully as she did with the use of her body.

So if you have a speech opening that seems slightly dull, see if you can add some body movement to it.

If your speech starts with a story of someone running, actually act out the running. If your speech starts with a story of someone reading, actually act out the reading.

It will make your speech opening that much more impactful.

Related article: 5 Body Language Tips to Command the Stage

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Final Words

So there it is! 15 speech openings from some of my favourite speeches. Hopefully, these will act as a guide for you to create your own opening which is super impactful and sets you off on the path to becoming a powerful public speaker!

But remember, while a speech opening is super important, it’s just part of an overall structure.

If you’re serious about not just creating a great speech opening but to improve your public speaking at an overall level, I would highly recommend you to check out this course: Acumen Presents: Chris Anderson on Public Speaking on Udemy. Not only does it have specific lectures on starting and ending a speech, but it also offers an in-depth guide into all the nuances of public speaking. 

Being the founder of TED Talks, Chris Anderson provides numerous examples of the best TED speakers to give us a very practical way of overcoming stage fear and delivering a speech that people will remember. His course has helped me personally and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to learn public speaking. 

No one is ever “done” learning public speaking. It’s a continuous process and you can always get better. Keep learning, keep conquering and keep being awesome!

Lastly, if you want to know how you should NOT open your speech, we’ve got a video for you:

Hrideep Barot

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opening lines to essays

What Makes a Great Opening Line?

Allegra hyde considers love at first sentence.

Maybe it has happened to you: a stranger catches your eye while you peruse the plant identification section of the library, or wander a mossy hillock speckled with Amanita bisporigera, or shuffle along in the funeral procession for your wealthy Aunt Tabitha. The look squeezes a secret place inside you, sets your heart racing—in fear or excitement, you can’t quite tell. Call this kismet. Call it chemistry. Despite all that remains unknown (and that could go wrong), you feel compelled to see where the connection might lead. You know it could change the course of your life.

I say this as a romantic—and as a human who reads and writes fiction. Because the spark of connection can happen on the page in the same way it can in the real world. A great first line can spur intense readerly attraction—provoke a compulsion to know more. Let’s call this: love at first sentence .

Such a reading experience is also a rare one, however. Just as it is easy to encounter most strangers and remain unmoved—so is it easy to not read most works of literature. The world is full of people we will never know and fiction we will never read. It takes something special for a first line to capture the heart of a reader—to propel a text out of a slush pile or off a bookshop shelf—for a work of literature to transform from stranger to intimate.

What is that something, exactly? I started pondering this question in earnest last summer, after signing on to teach a class about fiction’s first lines. To “research” in preparation for the class, I decided to ask around—to ask strangers, specifically, in the spirit of love at first sentence. And so, to the people of Twitter, I posed: “What are your favorite first lines in literature?”

The people of Twitter had plenty to say. From my initial post, a long thread of first lines unfurled, as readers and writers of fiction shared first sentences that had lodged in their brains and stuck. The openers came from a breadth of genres and in all syntactical varieties. There were first lines from odd realist novels, such as:

I was looking at the map when Stephen swerved, hit the rock, and occasioned the miscarriage. – The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

And there were openings from speculative short stories:

Seven corporations control the afterlife now, and many people spend their lives amassing the money to upload into the best. –Louise Erdrich, “Domain”

There were long opening sentences, such as:

Back when my parents and I lived in Bushwick in a building sandwiched between a drug house and another drug house, the only difference being that the dealers in the one drug house were also the users and so more unpredictable, and in the other the dealers were never the users and so more shrewd—back in those days, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment so subpar that we woke up with flattened cockroaches in our bedsheets, sometimes three or four stuck on our elbows, and once I found fourteen of them pressed to my calves, and there was no beauty in shaking them off, though we strove for grace, swinging our arms in the air as if we were ballerinas. –Jenny Zhang, “We Love You Crispina”

There were short, punchy openers like:

Mother died today. –Albert Camus, The Stranger

  As well as:

They shoot the white girl first. –Toni Morrison, Paradise

Several of Morrison’s opening lines were highlighted again and again. Other frequent repeats included:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. –Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

–Shirley Jackson, Haunting of Hill House

Then there was fan favorite:

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. –Donna Tartt, The Secret History

The responses to my Twitter inquiry crystallized a nascent theory I’d been formulating about what made certain first lines memorable and propulsive—because, although the sentences came in all varieties, a pattern emerged. Nearly all the favorite first lines gave readers an elegantly balanced dose of clarity and curiosity . Or to put this another way: seductive first sentences ground a reader in a situation, while also prompting a question in the reader’s mind that propels them forward in the text.

This might seem simple from the outset, but clarity and curiosity can be at odds with one another if not calibrated carefully; too much of one attribute can overwhelm the other, diminishing the overall power of the first sentence.

But let’s define these terms more thoroughly before going any further. By “clarity,” I mean the ability of a first sentence to give readers an initial hand-hold for place and/or time and/or character and/or plot. Clarity is essential for a first sentence because, at the start of a story or novel—barring whatever information a reader might have encountered on the jacket copy or in reviews—the reader’s mental theater is a void. An unlit stage. A nothingness. Every word in that first sentence is an opportunity to shine a light on what is to come—to give a reader enough information to stabilize them in some degree of who and where and what the story is about. Returning to Nell Zink’s opener for Wallcreeper , we see a beautiful example of clarity in action:

I was looking at the map when Stephen swerved, hit the rock, and occasioned the miscarriage.

This sentence tells readers that the novel features a first-person narrator who has some kind of relationship with person named Stephen, and that the pair is traveling, and that the accident of the miscarriage has occurred because of Stephen’s driving. This is an astonishing amount of context to be delivered in the space of a short sentence. Few readers would get entangled in Zink’s syntax, moreover, despite the unexpected place the sentence ends up. Though there are unknowns in the opener, there are not abstractions—which would have been the case if the sentence wasn’t diligently specific.

Is it possible for a sentence to be overly clear—too contextualized? Absolutely. We’ve all read sentences so freighted with detail that narrative momentum comes to a standstill. Just as the thrill love at first sight necessitates a degree of mystique, so does a compelling first sentence require certain gaps in information. Something has to remain unanswered, unexplained, unresolved—because therein lies the special chemistry between clarity and curiosity. We need to know enough to wonder more.

What invokes curiosity in a reader, and thereby keeps them reading? In my opinion: weirdness, conflict, tragedy, mystery, the supernatural, any whiff of struggle, or something being slightly off . Reading Zink’s first sentence for Wallcreeper , I found myself wondering big questions like: Why did Stephen swerve? What happened next? Where were these people going and why? But I also found the narrator’s tone to be a little odd. The word “occasioned” is an unusual verb, suggesting a distinctive attitude. This diction made me willing—no, eager—to read more.

Reviewing Twitter’s favorite first lines, I was struck by another commonality, housed under the umbrella of clarity and curiosity. Maybe you have already noticed from the examples given in this essay—but it seems that many iconic first sentences mention death. Though at first I found the ubiquity of death in people’s favorite fiction openers a touch disturbing, upon reflection this commonality made perfect sense. In all these sentences, death is presented alongside some mention of time; time and death, one could argue, are clarity and curiosity pushed toward a logical end point. Information about time offers readers a sense of clarity by indicating the temporal architecture of a story. And the mention of death—the greatest unknown—makes us curious, which generates narrative momentum. Just look at Toni Morrison’s first line from Paradise :

They shoot the white girl first.

Someone is shot (death) and we are offered an order of events (time).

These two components can be observed once again in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez :

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

There is a firing squad (death), which makes Colonel Aureliano remember what happened in the past (time).

Death and time also appear in Louise Erdrich’s “Domain”:

Seven corporations control the afterlife now, and many people spend their lives amassing the money to upload into the best.

Erdrich opens with a speculative technology relating to the afterlife (death) and there is a reference to how people spend their lives (time).

Finally, death and time are fused into an irresistible package in Donna Tartt’s opener from The Secret History :

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.

In this first line, Bunny has died (death) and weeks have passed before anyone realizes (time). The sentence is at once straightforward and provocative. Readers are given a sense of setting, of conflict, and of the parties involved, yet they are also left with questions like: How did Bunny die? Why is the situation grave? Who is telling this story? Who is we?

In case you don’t quite believe that death and (at least a whiff of) time make frequent appearances in many seductive first lines, here are a few more from my Twitter inquiry and beyond:

Nobody died that year. –Renata Adler,   Speedboat

I was not sorry when my brother died. –Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. –William Gibson, Neuromancer  

A dead man twists around one of my Doric columns. –Diane Cook, “Bounty”

I like to think I know what death is. –Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing

They were married on the Day of the Dead, el Día de los Muertos, which no one gave much thought to in all the months of planning, until the bride’s deceased father-in-law showed up in the car following the ceremony. –Natalie Sylvester, Ev eryone Knows You Go Home

On the evening Margio killed Anwar Sadat, Kyai Jahro was blissfully busy with his fishpond. –Eka Kurniawan, Man Tiger

I saw my mother raise a man from the dead. –Kaitlyn Greenidge, Libertie

  Of course, death and time are not absolutely imperative for every memorable first line. Many would call Jane Austen’s aphoristic opener to Pride and Prejudice the most famous first line in the English-language, and it contains no explicit mention of death:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.  

Though I could make the case that being “in possession of a good fortune” implies that someone has died so that the single man could inherit a fortune, what is more important here is that the clarity/curiosity principle holds true. Austen gives readers a seemingly straightforward truism that grounds readers in the themes of the novel to come, while also adding a provocative tinge of irony with the phrase “universally acknowledged.” Her calibration of clarity and curiosity is impeccable and indelible.

Slightly ironic truisms are one approach to first sentences, but there are many other ways of engaging readers while still balancing the aforementioned attributes. Take these openers, which are all in the form of a direct address:

Open the cabinet. –Nina MacLaughlin, Wake, Siren

See the child. –Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Call me Ishmael. –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

In these sentences, readers are given the hint of a situation and the intriguing zing of an instruction. As readers, we visualize a piece of furniture, a child, or a person named Ishmael—while also wondering why we’re being told what we are. There is a flirty confidence to these lines and the way they demand engagement, hustling us into the narrative ahead.

Then there works of fiction that coax readers forward with a question:

Why is the measure of love loss? –Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

“What’s it going to be then, eh?” –Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

Curiosity is made explicit in these examples, since a question begs an answer. Meanwhile clarity, in Winterson’s opener, comes via the expression of theme—just like in Austen’s first line to Pride and Prejudice . Burgess’s opener is admittedly abstract—especially given the ambiguity of “it”—but one could argue that the colloquial tone of the question, the vaguely intimidating nudge-nudge vibe, offers contextual orientation that makes sense for A Clockwork Orange . Readers get a sense of what they’re in for.

The first line of A Clockwork Orange is also an example of starting with dialogue, which is one of the most challenging ways to begin a story or novel. This is because, in the informational void that is the beginning of any work of fiction, dialogue can be difficult to place—it’s a sound vibrating through the ether—thereby making clarity more difficult to achieve. I am certainly not the first writer to raise this point; Ann Hood cautions against starting with dialogue in her wonderful essay “Beginnings,” which appears in The Writer’s Notebook II from Tin House . To pull off such an opener, according to Hood: “The dialogue must be compelling enough to draw the reader in before he or she knows anything about the character(s) speaking or the context in which the dialogue is taking place.” I would add that having a dialogue tag spill into scene can help ground a reader in place, time, character, and other contextual essentials. Here are two examples of approaching dialogue this way:

“Pink is the color for girls,” Kiera says, so she and Ava cut their palms and let their blood drip into a shallow bowl filled with milk, watching the color spread slowly on the surface, small red flowers blooming. –Dantiel W. Moniz, “Milk Blood Heat”

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. –E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Both Moniz’s and White’s openers give readers the contextual handholds necessary to stabilize readers in a scene, and throw open the door to intrigue. These sentences show, once again, that the form or style of a first line is less important than how the author generates an alchemic blend of clarity and curiosity. After all, though Moniz’s and White’s lines both gesture towards physical violence and the specter of suffering, a first line can also dazzle simply for being funny. Take these examples, which ground a reader in a situation, while zooming forward on comedic momentum:

Dad thought himself a good-looking man. –Souvankham Thammavongsa, “Good-Looking”

My classroom was on the first floor, next to the nuns’ lounge. –Ottessa Moshfegh, “Bettering Myself”

Unlike the typical bluesy earthy folksy denim-overalls noble-in-the-face-of-cracker-racism aw shucks Pulitzer-Prize-winning protagonist mojo magic black man, I am not the seventh son of the seventh son of the seventh son. –Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle

Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuy. –Ha Jin, Waiting

Other well-loved first sentences use oddness as a springboard for curiosity—giving readers just enough clarity to keep them engaged. Sentences like:

A screaming comes across the sky. –Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

I lost an arm on my last trip home. –Octavia Butler, Kindred

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. –George Orwell, 1984

I n a labor camp, somewhere in the Persian Gulf, a laborer swallowed his passport and turned into a passport. –Deepack Unnikrishnan, “Gulf Return”

My mother had two placentas and I was living off both of them. –Gabe Habash, Stephen Florida

Nothing moved except the mirage. –Adania Shibli, Minor Detail

In an ideal world we would have been orphans. –Miranda July, “Something That Needs Nothing”

Then there are first sentences that are simply disarmingly congenial:

When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie,’ which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta. –Haruki Murakami, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

What I am getting at here, at the end of this essay, is that love at first sentence is a wide open field. There are many kinds of sentences—just like there are many kinds of people—that might beguile you if they present the right blend of clarity and curiosity, perceptibility and mystery. There may be certain sentences that catch more eyes—sentences featuring death and time, in particular—but ultimately (and apologies for the cliché) beauty is the eye of the beholder. What is important, in the end, is that the right first sentence finds the right reader. Because what is a sentence if not one step in an ongoing series of steps? And what is a relationship except one moment of connection followed by another, and then another—as long as the connection lasts? In the case of fiction, this is a relationship that hopefully extends all the way from cover to cover.


opening lines to essays

Allegra Hyde’s novel Eleutheria is available now via Vintage.

Allegra Hyde

Allegra Hyde

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How to Write an Essay Opening

Daniel paine.

Person using pencil.jpg

It doesn't matter how good the body of your essay is if you start off on the wrong foot. First impressions count, especially when it comes to your grade. A bad opening can lower your grade, no matter how good every other part of it is. The opening convinces the reader that he or she should keep reading. The opening further convinces the reader that you have something interesting and important to say. It is arguably the most important part of your essay.

Explore this article

  • Write the body
  • Open the introduction to your essay with a hook
  • Give a context
  • Move from the general
  • End your opening with your thesis statement

things needed

1 write the body.

Write the body of the essay first and the introduction last. This way your opening will be a more accurate representation of what the essay is about.

2 Open the introduction to your essay with a hook

Open the introduction to your essay with a hook to grab the reader's attention. Some ways to do this include using a relevant quote, a provocative assertion or a thoughtful question.

3 Give a context

Give a context for the overall essay and subject matter to be discussed so that your reader begins to have a solid idea of what to expect.

4 Move from the general

Move from the general to the more specific as your opening paragraph progresses.

5 End your opening with your thesis statement

End your opening with your thesis statement, usually a one sentence that clearly states the point of the essay.

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Guest Essay

There’s a Good Chance Trump Will Be Found ‘Willfully Blind’

opening lines to essays

By Burt Neuborne

Mr. Neuborne is a professor emeritus at New York University Law School, where he was the founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice.

More than a decade ago, a divided Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Alvarez that an elected member of a district water board in California could not be prosecuted criminally for lying to an audience about winning the Medal of Honor. The court ruled that efforts to criminalize mere lying, without linking the lie to an attempt to gain a material advantage, posed an unacceptable threat to robust exercise of First Amendment rights.

Given that decision, Jack Smith, the special prosecutor investigating former President Donald Trump, was right in concluding that Mr. Trump has a First Amendment right to lie to the general public.

So, where’s the legal beef in the indictment arising from the events that culminated in the storming of the Capitol brought by Mr. Smith against Mr. Trump? It’s in the fact that Mr. Smith isn’t merely charging the former president with lying; he is contending that Mr. Trump lied to gain an unlawful benefit — a second term in office after voters showed him the exit. That kind of speech-related behavior falls comfortably within what the justices call “categorical exceptions” to the First Amendment like true threats, incitements, obscenity, depictions of child sexual abuse, fighting words, libel, fraud and speech incident to criminal conduct.

As the court put it in 1949 in the case of Giboney v. Empire Storage and Ice Co. , “It rarely has been suggested that the constitutional freedom for speech and press extends its immunity to speech or writing used as an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute.”

That is why Mr. Smith will most likely seek to prove that the former president was engaged in “speech incident to criminal conduct” when he and his co-conspirators lied to state legislators, state election officials, gullible supporters, Justice Department lawyers and Vice President Mike Pence in an illegal effort to prevent Joe Biden from succeeding him as president. Since Mr. Trump is charged with, among other crimes, conspiracy to defraud the United States and to deprive people of the right to have their votes counted, Mr. Smith would clearly be right in arguing that the Alvarez decision doesn’t apply.

Characterizing Mr. Trump’s words as “speech incident to criminal conduct” would neatly solve Mr. Smith’s First Amendment problem but at a substantial cost to the prosecution. To win a conviction, the government must persuade 12 jurors to peer inside Mr. Trump’s head and find beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew he was lying when he claimed to be the winner of the 2020 election. If Mr. Trump actually believed his false assertions, his speech was not “incident to criminal conduct.”

How can Mr. Smith persuade 12 jurors that no reasonable doubt exists that Mr. Trump knew he was lying? The prosecution will, no doubt, barrage the jury with reams of testimony showing that he was repeatedly told by every reputable adviser and administration official that no credible evidence of widespread electoral fraud existed and that Mr. Pence had no choice but to certify Mr. Biden as the winner.

But there also will probably be evidence that fervent supporters of Mr. Trump’s efforts fed his narcissism with bizarre false tales of result-changing electoral fraud and frivolous legal theories justifying interference with Mr. Biden’s certification as president-elect. Those supporters could include Rudy Giuliani; Sidney Powell , a lawyer and purveyor of wild conspiracy theories; Jeffrey Clark , the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division, who apparently plotted with Mr. Trump to unseat the acting attorney general and take control of the department; and John Eastman , the lawyer who hatched the plan that Mr. Pence refused to follow to keep Mr. Trump in power.

Maybe Mr. Trump himself will swear to his good faith belief that he won. With all that conflicting testimony, how is a conscientious juror to decide for sure what was really going on inside his head?

The answer lies in the Supreme Court’s doctrine of willful blindness. A dozen years ago, in the case of Global-Tech Appliances v. SEB , Justice Samuel Alito, writing for all but one justice, ruled that proof of willful blindness is the legal equivalent of proving guilty knowledge.

As Justice Alito explained it, “Many criminal statutes require proof that a defendant acted knowingly or willfully, and courts applying the doctrine of willful blindness hold that defendants cannot escape the reach of these statutes by deliberately shielding themselves from clear evidence of critical facts that are strongly suggested by the circumstances.”

In other words, when a defendant, like Mr. Trump, is on notice of the potential likelihood of an inconvenient fact (Mr. Biden’s legitimate victory) and closes his eyes to overwhelming evidence of that fact, the willfully blind defendant is just as guilty as if he actually knew the fact. While this argument is not a slam dunk, there’s an excellent chance that 12 jurors will find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Trump hid from the truth by adopting willful blindness.

Burt Neuborne is a professor emeritus at New York University Law School, where he was the founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice. He was the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1981 to 1986.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .

The sun setting over the sea, with broken-up ice along a rocky shoreline in the foreground

New dawn for Arctic’s first people: the Inuit plan to reclaim their sea

The environment Inuit have lived in for millennia is changing fast. Canada’s government once ignored Indigenous knowledge of it but now they are jointly creating the Nunatsiavut conservation area

Photographs by Eldred Allen

A plume of red erupts in the grey-blue waters and Martin Shiwak accelerates his boat to grab the seal he has shot before the animal sinks out of sight. Shiwak has hunted for years in the waters of Lake Melville, by the Inuit community of Rigolet in Nunatsiavut.

As he hauls the ringed seal into the vessel, he says he counts himself lucky to have found one so quickly. “Sometimes you have to drive around here in the boat nearly all day to find a seal,” Shiwak says. “Nowadays you can’t even afford to – C$60 only gets you five gallons of gas.”

A man with a hunting rifle in a small metal boat with an outboard motor on a lake

Martin Shiwak with his hunting rifle in his boat, on Lake Melville, near Rigolet in Nunatsiavut

Nunatsiavut – one of four Inuit homelands in Canada – is where the subarctic becomes the Arctic . An autonomous region of Labrador-Newfoundland province, it is located at the extreme north-east corner of North America.

Winter temperatures here can average -30C (-22F) with the windchill, as the Labrador current brings Arctic ice floes down along the coast, and a host of marine life from, plankton to polar bears.

From November to June, shipping is impossible because sea ice covers the entire 9,320-mile (15,000km) coastline, so all food and supplies must be flown in. In Rigolet, a frozen 1.5kg (3.3lb) chicken will set you back C$25 (£15). Hunting here is not just a tradition but a necessity.

On the rocky beach, Shiwak butchers the seal with precision, turning the water a bright crimson as crows caw overhead. As a young boy, he learned to hunt and fish with his father and grandfather, who in turn had learned these vital skills from their elders.

It is also how Shiwak learned the core Inuit values of taking only what is needed, sharing, sustainability and respect for nature – values he is passing down to his own children. Dane, 13, is at school but Shiwak knows he will want to be first to hear about the seal.

Martin Shiwak hunts a seal from his boat, on Lake Melville.

Martin Shiwak hunts and butchers a seal using traditional Inuit methods. In remote Nunatsiavut, hunting is vital

But while traditional knowledge has allowed Inuit to survive in this harsh environment for so long, the climatic conditions they rely on are changing quickly. Since 1950, Nunatsiavut has lost 40 days of ground snow a year . Its sea ice is vanishing faster than anywhere in the Canadian Arctic.

Normally at this time in November, the shoreline would be covered in ice, and people would be putting away their boats and dusting off their snowmobiles. In his lifetime, Shiwak has witnessed the winters becoming warmer, wetter, and shorter.

The coast of the Torngat Mountains.

The coast of the Torngat Mountains, where winters have become warmer, wetter and shorter over the years

There is very little local people can do about that: although the region is roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland, Nunatsiavut’s population is less than 3,000, spread among five small towns.

What they can do, however, is work to protect what they have. That’s why Nunatsiavut is partnering with the Canadian government to co-develop the world’s first Inuit protected area.

Nunatsiavut is home to Arctic birds and marine mammals.

A minke whale breeching as it feeds. Nunatsiavut is home to many Arctic marine mammals, with 21 species of whales and dolphins regularly seen in Labrador-Newfoundland province

This unprecedented conservation zone, which is now the subject of a feasibility study, would span nearly 15,000 sq km (5,800 sq miles) of the Labrador Sea bordering the Torngat Mountains national park.

Built on Inuit values and culture, this new type of conservation area would allow Indigenous people to continue traditional practices of hunting and fishing.

That was not always the case. Past conservation policies saw Inuit at best only consulted and at worst completely ignored. Many Inuit hunters and fishers faced fines, had their equipment confiscated and their catches from hunting and fishing taken.

Sea ice is vanishing faster in Nunatsiavut than anywhere else in the Canadian Arctic.

Sea ice is vanishing faster in Nunatsiavut than elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic. Since 1950, the region has also lost 40 days of ground snow a year

Despite being granted the power to self-govern in 2005 (after 30 years of negotiations with the Canadian government), Nunatsiavut still lacked the final say over conservation in its waters. Final decisions defaulted to federal or provincial ministers.

Now, at last, Nunatsiavut can jointly create and co-manage the protected area, based on Inuit priorities, as an equal authority. This will allow Inuit to practise traditional hunting and fishing in the area, while protecting the waters from industry and development.

“Just because we’re small doesn’t mean we can’t do something,” says James Goudie, deputy minister of lands and natural resources in the Nunatsiavut government. “We can show the world that a small region can protect a massive amount of biodiversity.”

A hunter prepares a fish.

A trout is cleaned. Under previous Canadian governments, Inuit communities would often have fish and animals they had hunted taken from them

The Inuit protected area would only cover about a third of Nunatsiavut’s nearly 50,000 sq km of offshore waters, but the region is home to important populations of fish such as salmon and Arctic char, the breeding grounds for many migratory birds, and the habitat of Arctic marine mammals including polar bears, beluga whales and seals.

Establishing a protected area is also a pre-emptive strike against resource exploitation. Significant natural gas deposits have been found offshore along the Labrador shelf, but it has remained largely unexplored because of the ice. As the climate warms, however, the region is becoming more accessible – the Inuit protected area would prevent such resource exploration.

Goudie says Nunatsiavut does not oppose developing resources in its waters outside the protected area, but insists that it must benefit Inuit and cause negligible harm to the environment. Inuit are well positioned to lead Arctic marine conservation, he argues – and not just because they have a vested interest in protecting their home.

“Our connection and experience on the land is thousands of years in the making and that allows us a culturally based conservation ethic,” he says.

Traditional Inuit knowledge has been passed down orally through countless generations. Over time, the knowledge has accumulated nuances and observations: a dangerous rip-tide in a particular location, or how to properly prepare sealskin for a pair of boots.

This deep-rooted observational knowledge is often seen as at odds with science, but Goudie says they are complementary. For example, science can be used to tag and track animals to monitor their migration route, while Inuit knowledge can describe those animals’ behaviour and relationships to find the same route. Together, the two knowledge systems can enrich and fortify each other.

A boy in an anorak with a rifle on his back and a woolly hat holds a white bird

Dane Shiwak with a ptarmigan. The 13-year-old is learning Inuit hunting traditions from his father

“Many studies show that biodiversity is highest on Indigenous-managed lands,” says Sigrid Kuehnemund, programme manager for national marine conservation areas with Parks Canada .

Kuehnemund is working with Nunatsiavut on the new proposal, hoping to build on Parks Canada’s existing relationship co-managing the Torngat Mountains national park. “It really helps Canada meet its commitments to support Indigenous life conservation, and it helps us meet our biodiversity goals, ensuring that Indigenous peoples have a primary role of leadership in managing protected areas.”

The Nunatsiavut government first looked to elders, hunters and fishers for guidance with their marine plan, called Imappivut . They realised that although the area is rich in Inuit knowledge, much scientific data is lacking: in such a remote, sparsely populated place, which is buried for months under sea ice, research is difficult and expensive.

One key missing dataset was how the ocean changes from year to year or season to season. There are also knowledge gaps on the ebb and flow in the biomass of plankton; how fish species such as salmon and Arctic char are connected to other ecological areas; and the seasonal changes in marine life on the ocean floor.

There is not even a clear understanding of how much ocean temperatures here have risen, let alone how much they might rise in future – hugely important for knowing whether invasive species such as the European green crab, which has been devastating marine environments along Canada’s Atlantic seaboard, could make its way here.

“To plan for the realities of climate change, you need to understand what is known and what is not,” says Rodd Laing, Nunatsiavut’s environment director, who is taking the lead on drawing up the Immapiavut marine plan. “You cannot measure change without knowing where you’ve come from.”

Sea ice has been arriving later each year in the Canadian Arctic.

Sea ice has been arriving later each year in the Canadian Arctic

Laing’s department is working with government, researchers and environmentalists to catch up. They are setting up a network of monitoring moorings, and hydrophones to listen for species under the ice. They are also creating an eDNA database, which collects cells in the ocean to provide a much more detailed look at which species inhabit an environment than you could get by identifying those animals by sight.

The borders of the new area have not been finalised, with the feasibility report expected in 2024 or 2025. But Laing notes: “You don’t need lines on a map to recognise the great work that happened already with Inuit relative to conservation and the management of ecological resources.”

After all, he says, for countless generations of Inuit, conservation was not an option that could be ignored: it was a way to ensure there would be enough to eat, and enough next time as well.

A boat at sunset on Lake Melville, Rigolet.

The boat at sunset on Lake Melville, Rigolet

The sun getting is low over Rigolet, and the flat harbour mirrors the town, hills and sky. Shiwak plans to distribute the seal meat to relatives and neighbours, and is looking forward to telling Dane all about the hunt.

But while he is pleased Nunatsiavut is seeking community input on conservation, and believes the new Inuit protected area will help protect the marine animals his community rely on, he knows they cannot stop the changes in climate that are disrupting the traditional Inuit way of life. If the ice keeps arriving so late, he says, maybe one day they might need to build a road to Nunatsiavut.

Still, if Inuit culture is nothing if not adaptable, and Shiwak believes that if his children are going to continue to call Nunatsiavut home, then adapt they will. “They’re doing this already,” he says.

“They’re going to have to [manage] a lot of change to be able to survive. And if they don’t do that, they’re going to have to move on.”

  • Seascape: the state of our oceans
  • Indigenous peoples
  • Climate crisis
  • Marine life

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Your fantasy football 2023 draft cheat sheet

Searching for fantasy sleepers ? Not sure what to do with the No. 1 pick? Have questions about whether to use the Zero RB strategy , which top players are at high risk of injury or what to do with your flex spot to give you an edge ? Or just need some draft tiers to help you decide what position to target next ? You’ve come to the right place. Our cheat sheet will guide you through your 2023 fantasy football draft, whether you’ve been preparing for weeks or just started last night.

Check out our perfect draft rosters

To make our “perfect draft,” we keep an overall outline based on average draft position but modify that picture based on injury concerns, strength of schedule and opportunity. Our rosters should outperform an average team in any given week . (You can read an in-depth explanation of our methodology here .) Remember: This is the perfect draft based on our 2023 projections, so some players will have more or less projected value than the public perceives. Use this to your advantage.

Use draft tiers to make the most of your picks

Top-200 lists aren’t as useful after the first couple of rounds because your initial picks strongly influence which positions you may want to target in the middle and later rounds. Draft tiers can help you choose which position to target when your turn comes up. Use them to see when strong candidates for a specific position are rapidly drying up or when there are enough good options left that you can be confident about scooping one up in the next round. Use our draft tiers for quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end .

Forget the Zero RB strategy and get a strong RB early

The popular Zero RB strategy involves de-emphasizing running back early in the draft and focusing on top-tier wide receivers, tight ends and perhaps a quarterback to avoid the uncertainty of volatile running back performances and injuries. But as fantasy football drafting strategy and offenses have changed, we recommend drafting an elite running back in the first three rounds because of their scarcity and value. Call it the Hero RB strategy, and follow it this year.

Be wary of these high-risk players

Beyond raw talent and statistics, injuries, aging and opportunity can shape a player’s fantasy potential — and his risk of disappointing. We analyzed the top 50 or so players on fantasy football draft boards, examining the potential dangers, based on a 12-team point-per-reception league. We chose nine players with the highest risk because of injury, age or opportunity .

Use our list of late-round sleepers

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Target wide receivers for your flex spot

Your flex spot could be the key to your season, and we recommend targeting wide receivers. Why? Running backs are often heavily reliant on volume and touchdowns to achieve high fantasy point totals, and most tight ends are too touchdown-dependent to be counted on. Meanwhile, wide receivers can make impactful contributions through receptions (in PPR leagues) and yards to offer consistent value. Here is our full analysis about why this should be your flex-spot strategy .

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An air quality alert in effect for 8 regions in the area

Spriester sessions: robert earl keen talks new album, writing and whether he’s a texas music ‘legend’, keen sits down with steve spriester to talk about his music, writing and the ‘legend’ status he has been given.

Steve Spriester , Anchor

William Caldera , Photojournalist

Andrew Wilson , Digital Journalist/Social Media Producer

Bill Taylor , Producer

He’s been recognized as a Texas legend, and while he may have retired from touring, he has a new album and will be performing on Labor Day.

In this Spriester Sessions , Robert Earl Keen talks about his new album, his favorite record and how he wants to be remembered.

Keen also discusses how many of his songs are autobiographical, the songs he knows he’d better play live and how he writes the songs his audiences love.

Watch the Spriester Sessions Extra in the video player below to see Keen give a tour of his ranch near Medina while talking more about his music and songs the audience loves.

Copyright 2023 by KSAT - All rights reserved.

About the Authors:

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Steve Spriester started at KSAT in 1995 as a general assignments reporter. Now, he anchors the station's top-rated 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

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William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.


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