The Power of a Strong Opening Line

“It was the day my grandmother exploded”.

That’s the opening line of The Crow Road by Iain Banks. The book opens in the chapel of a crematorium in Scotland. The narrator has returned for a funeral. Although this is from a novel, it’s a great example of an opening line that compels the reader, or listener, to stick around to hear the rest of your message.

In a print ad, it’s the headline. In a radio commercial, it’s the first sentence of your ad. In either case, as Dan O’Day is fond of saying, it’s the “commercial for the commercial.” If your opening line is good enough, the listener will keep listening to hear what you’ve got to say.

The opening line has to grab the listeners’ attention, and give them a reason to continue to pay attention. You either need to surprise them, intrigue them, or offer them, up front, a significant benefit.

If all you’ve got to say is “We’re celebrating our seventh anniversary!”, they’re gone.

That’s Lesson #1 of The Crow Road. That line was so good that I absolutely had to keep reading until I found out exactly how Grandma blew up. It took 22 pages to get to the explosion.

I was hoping for an epic detonation, but the actual grandmother-explosion turned out to be a minor pop. Before reaching Page 50, I put the book down, and never opened it again. Lesson #2 is that your opening line is a promise, and you’d better deliver on it.

Somewhere, as you’re reading this, a woman is listening to the radio. The station she’s listening to has just gone into a commercial break. In the next five seconds, she will decide to either

1. Pay attention to the first commercial, or

2. Tune the whole thing out.

If it’s your commercial she’s listening to… how strong is your opening line?


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