While you don’t want to confuse your readers, presenting them with a puzzle can be highly effective—particularly if the narrator is also puzzled.
This has the instant effect of making the reader and narrator partners in crime.
The sentence you are currently reading has the potential to brand itself indelibly upon our cultural consciousness and to alter the course of Western Civilization. But what author doesn’t dream of crafting an opening line that will achieve the iconic recognition of “Call me Ishmael,” or the staying power of “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth …”?
In writing, as in dating and business, initial reactions matter.
As a fishing buddy of mine explains, the trick is to use the smallest hook possible to make a catch—and then to pull like crazy in the opposite direction.
In modern cinema, films commonly begin with the camera focused close up on an object and then draw back panoramically, often to revelatory effect, such as when what appears to be a nude form is actually revealed to be a piece of fruit. Most readers prefer to be “grounded” in context and to focus in. One of the easiest pitfalls in starting a story is to begin with an opening line that is confusing upon first reading, but that makes perfect sense once the reader learns additional information later in the story.An opening line should have a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and some hint of characterization.By the end of the first paragraph, we should also know the setting and conflict, unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information.The problem is that few readers, if confused, will ever make it that far.This is not to say that you can’t include information in your opening that acquires without knowledge the reader will acquire later.One of the dangers of trying to come up with a great opening sentence is that you can end up overthinking it and going overboard.As one admissions tutor said: 'Be succinct and draw the reader in, but not with a gimmick.This isn't the X Factor.' Even some Oxbridge admissions tutors mentioned this.They emphasised the need for candidates to engage the reader with your (relevant) perceptions or ideas, not by something flashy.Watch now: How to begin your personal statement Check out our guides to concluding your statement, talking about your hobbies the right way and what to cut if you're hitting the Ucas character count.Also, we cover some specific personal statement queries here including what counts in the character limit set by Ucas.