Test Your Story’s Opening Line– Fiction Writing

I’m taking a masters class through Writers Village and I thought I’d share with you the “secret formula” to your opening lines.

It’s called the Hologram test.  What is the Hologram test?  It’s a golden rule that the first 100 words of your novel be a hologram, a teasing but true sample of the wares to come.

So how can you make sure your story passes this all-important test and wins the hearts of readers?

Here are 3 simple ways:

1.  Locate your story clearly in a genre.  A story that is not easily defined in a genre is typically dismissed LitFic (Literary Fiction).  Yes, LitFic is a genre all on its own.  LitFic should enchant the reader by its power of language or delicacy of perception.  But, if you write a novel that doesn’t fit into a specific genre than you better be a damn fine writer, because not only will you have a difficult time with agents and publishers but with readers, too.  So flaunt your genre quickly in those opening lines.

death noteTell me these two words don’t invoke a visceral response.

2.  Give a teasing glimpse of the plot conflicts in your book.  If your story fails to quickly introduce conflict it’s either LitFic or a bad story.  Conflict is the lifeblood of your story so start the stakes right out of the chute.  Let two or more characters be in conflict immediately before readers turn to page two.  Or, your protagonist in conflict with themselves, or external forces.  Shake up the readers adrenaline!  Get their blood pumping!  Their eyes wide on the page before them!  You can do this with narrative or dialogue.  Sometimes dialogue is an easy way to kick-start the conflict, foreshadowing events to come.  Put your indispensable statement in the first scene.  An event, a revealing passage of characterization, dialogue, setting, or a provocative assertion by the narrator.  Without it, your story doesn’t get going.

found the guy

3.  Enchant the reader with your style.  Flaunt your style of writing– your voice– in the first paragraph.  The restraint and balance of those lines tells the reader they’re in good hands.  Don’t disappoint them with… “It was a dark and stormy night.”  When a reader has invested their time and money it is your duty to repay it.  You do that by enthralling them with your words.  Enchanting them with your hook.  Intriguing them with the story question you raise.  And don’t forget to end your story well, too.  No one will buy the sequel, if there is one, if you don’t end the first book well.  One way to do that is to leave one unanswered question.  Not a plot hole, just one teasingly tantalizing question that makes them want to buy book two.


What are some of the ways you like to begin your stories?  I would love to read the opening lines of either your work in progress or your most recent novel.  Leave me the first couple of lines in the comment section and get opinions from future readers!  It’s a great way to judge if you’ve done it well.  Don’t include the genre.  Let us guess to see how well you’ve done.

To kick it off, here are the opening lines from my newest novel Silent Betrayal

The still silence of the night is my addiction. There’s no better drug on earth. It’s an incredible feeling to know I’m the only one awake. The only person stirring among peaceful, darkened homes. Alone in the dark I am free. Alive. Invincible. Nothing can touch me.

46 thoughts on “Test Your Story’s Opening Line– Fiction Writing

  1. Just came across your blog. This is a very interesting topic. My husband has just self published his second novel. We’d very much appreciate your taking a look at the first lines. Love to hear your comments. I’m very new to this process.

    “My Father? He was killed in an explosion. It was for us. He died that way, taking care of us. That’s how I like to think of it anyway. The winter of fifty-eight, hauling gasoline over Wheeler Peak in a snowstorm in the dead of night. The road turns to a sheet of ice. I’ve tried to picture it a million times. The blast! Christ Almighty! Must have been like something out of this world.”


    • This is a tough one. Instead of starting with “My father?” when no one has asked the question, have you thought about having the narrator recall the story instead? Maybe something like, The day my father died by a fiery blast, in the winter of fifty-eight, the roads had turned to a sheet of ice.
      But then, you’ll have to “show” how that relates to your story by starting the action. Remember, starting too early will lose your reader. Start to late, and the reader is confused. It’s a fine line. Also, make sure you’re using “active” and not “passive” voice. Hope this helps.


      • Thank you. I’ll pass that along to my husband. The novel itself follows the careers of four young men entering the seminary to become Catholic priests. The story deals with a wide variety of social issues within the clergy itself including mandatory celibacy and the discordant behavior it frequently engenders, the Vatican’s unyielding refusal to ordain women, the terrible delimma in which gay priests find themselves as guardians of a religious tradition that condemns homosexual acts. There’s a love story; a pedophilia murder; greed for power and money; women’s rights; good men and bad men and the ultimate epiphany of one who has fallen so far away from the moral principles on which the church was original based. It’s way better than it sounds with a grand weave of interesting characters and locales. Thanks again for your comments.


  2. Well, I just discovered this through a FB posting. I apologize for the delay. Here’s the opening of my debut novel, “(Marvin’s) World of Deadheads”:
    “Oh, shit!” were the last words Marvin spoke.
    The last thing Marvin heard was, Thump!
    He stood up, a little dazed from the impact, and inspected his clothes. They didn’t seem to be any worse for the wear; no dirt or stains, no tears, not even a scuff on his shoes. He looked himself over, all six-feet two-inches, and he didn’t see any blood, but he knew one thing for certain: Marvin Broadstein, “Marv” to his girlfriend – no, that wasn’t right – his fiancée, Jenna, “Brody” to his friends and coworkers, was dead.


    • Sci-Fi or Fantasy– it passes the first test. He was hit by a moving vehicle (car, train, bus, etc.)– nice description. Yes, It leaves me wanting to know: 1.) is he a zombie? 2.) How he is dead but talking? 3.) What happens next? The only place you lost me was the end after “one thing for certain…” It was a little confusing. Other than that, I liked it very much.


      • I had no idea what genre I was writing in. I suspected Urban Fantasy. I’ve since been informed it’s Paranormal Romantic Comedy.
        The place you got lost is made clear fairly soon. His fiancee, Jenna, calls him “Marv” and an old college buddy (also dead), who shows up to Marvin’s funeral, calls him “Brody.”

        I’ve since learned an awful lot about the craft of writing. I’ve landed a job as a theater critic and columnist for the local (daily) newspaper, and I’m working on the sequel to Marvin, titled “(Jenna’s) Gang of Deadheads.”


        • Good for you! That’s wonderful news. We all learn as we go, and never stop learning. I notice each novel I write gets better and better. That’s the nature of the beast I guess. Good luck to you.


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