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Engage and Intrigue: 7 Actionable Tips to Start Your Novel with a Bang (Inciting Incident Guide)

Hey, you magnificent wordsmith! Do your novel beginnings feel like a wet matchstick refusing to ignite? Fret not, my literarily-inclined amigo. Together, we’re about to set your narrative on fire. Let’s turn that prologue into a pyrotechnics show.

  1. The Mystery Opening: Have your readers muttering, “What the heck just happened?” by the end of page one. Open with an enigmatic scene, dialogue, or inner monologue. Let them be Sherlock, piecing the clues together.
  2. Dive into Action: No, not that kind of action (though, who knows?). Drop your protagonist into a chaotic situation. Be it a car chase or a misbehaving magical potion, kick things off with a rush!
  3. Use the Environment: Start with a vivid, atmospheric description that sets the mood. Is it the fog-laden alleyways of Victorian London or the eerie calm of a space station? Your setting can be your strongest ally.
  4. In Medias Res: A classic! Begin in the midst of things. This technique has been around since the ancient Greeks, so you’re in legendary company.
  5. Dialogue Dive-in: Begin with a spicy piece of dialogue. Arguments reveal character personalities, motivations, and conflicts faster than you can say “plot twist.”
  6. An Unforgettable Character Introduction: Readers don’t need the character’s life story on page one, but give them a quirk, habit, or moral dilemma that’s unforgettable. Think Sherlock’s violin or Katniss’ unwavering love for her sister.
  7. Flash-forward Technique: Start with a glimpse of a pivotal future event. Think Walter White in his underwear in Breaking Bad. Leave readers hungry to discover how events escalated.

Best opening lines from famous books

The opening lines or paragraphs of books are an art form unto themselves. These lines set the tone for the entire narrative and can become iconic in the annals of literary history. Here are some of the best opening lines or paragraphs from renowned books, alongside a brief explanation of why they’re so impactful:

  1. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
    • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
    • Why it’s great: The line sets up the central theme of the novel – the societal pressure to marry, and it does so with a touch of irony.
  2. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
    • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
    • Why it’s great: This is a broad, sweeping statement that encapsulates the domestic drama about to unfold.
  3. “Call me Ishmael.”
    • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.
    • Why it’s great: Simplicity. The line introduces us to the narrator and hints at a story that might have been different under another name.
  4. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
    • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
    • Why it’s great: Immediately, we’re introduced to a new creature (a hobbit) and a sense of coziness and domesticity that sets the tone for the entire tale.
  5. “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.”
    • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
    • Why it’s great: This rhythmic, antithetical opening prepares readers for a novel of grand dichotomies.
  6. “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.”
    • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
    • Why it’s great: This line provides continuity from Twain’s earlier novel and introduces us to Huck’s distinctive voice.
  7. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
    • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
    • Why it’s great: The line is evocative and mysterious, setting the scene for this gothic novel.

These beginnings are as varied as they are iconic. They draw readers into different worlds, from the intimate to the epic, promising stories of depth and adventure. For aspiring writers, they also offer a masterclass in how to start a narrative with a bang.


  • Q: Can I combine multiple techniques? A: Absolutely! Think of them as ingredients in a narrative soup. Taste-test and see what combination works best for your story.
  • Q: How do I avoid overwhelming readers? A: Balance. While it’s crucial to hook readers, don’t bombard them with too much. Let the story breathe.
  • Q: How much background info is too much in the beginning? A: The story dictates this. However, a common pitfall is the ‘info dump’. Introduce background organically, avoiding long expositions early on.

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