How to Write an Opening Line

In an effort to learn from my betters, I’m always on the lookout for a great opening line, and the daily news never disappoints. This is how one of my favorite writers—Michael Kimmelman, art critic for The New York Times—started a front page story earlier this month.

By at least one amusing new metric, Michelangelo’s unofficial 500-year run at the top of the Italian art charts has ended. Caravaggio, who somehow found time to paint when he wasn’t brawling, scandalizing pooh-bahs, chasing women (and men), murdering a tennis opponent with a dagger to the groin, fleeing police assassins or getting his face mutilated by one of his many enemies, has bumped him from his perch.

It’s a perfect opener: vivid, precise, surprising, well-rhythmed—the human drama in Technicolor. Of course, I wanted to read more, which is the best and most useful test of a great opening line.

He makes it look easy, the mark of a master: Set the stage, draw your reader in by the collar if you have to, and be nice.