We all know how important cover art and decent copy is to catch the attention of a book buyer, but I think the opening line of your novel can also make or break a sale. How many times have you seen a browsing book buyer open a novel and read, then put it back on the shelf? I don't think it wasn't because the title page had a lame font, do you?
Like decent endings, good, solid opening lines are elusive things. They don't want to pop into your head. They don't like to cooperate, can't be forced, and often silently beg C'mon, rewrite me, rewrite me. I know authors who won't write their opening lines until the book is finished, and others who agonize or brood over them more than any other part of the book.
The healthier approach is to be casual and have a good time with opening lines. Yes, the beginning of any story is important, and you should pay attention to how you write it, but endlessly rewriting in search of The Perfect Hook takes time you can spend writing other things. You know, like the novel.
I don't think we ever become experts at opening lines, either. I've written them for the last thirty years, and yet out of all those dozens of novels and hundreds of stories, I've only been (nearly) satisfied with these three openers:
All I was trying to do when they caught me was bury my mother in an unmarked grave. -- Blade Dancer
A carpenter who falls and impales himself on a two-by-four isn’t supposed to burst into flame, but there he was: construction worker kabob. -- Infusion
I don’t like waking up with a three hundred pound merc sitting on me and holding a knife to my throat. -- Red Branch
Obviously I like a lot of drama and excitement -- not to mention criminal activity -- in my opening lines. Other quirks: all three of these stories, like most of my work, feature female protagonists who are very different from Yours Truly. All three stories open with a death or imminent death (my favorite alternative to the weather report.) They're a bit shocking but they're also funny. If I can rattle your cage while I make you laugh, then I'm a happy girl. Great opening lines may have a lot to do with our storytelling styles as well as our individual voices, and how true we are to them.
What do you think goes into the making of a great opener? If you've got some examples of your own or another writer's you'd like to share, post them in comments.