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If the protagonist’s early-morning rituals are essential to the story line, or merely entertaining, they can always be included in backstory or flashbacks—or later, when he wakes up for a second time.

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This need not lead to elaborate or complex openings. For example, the opening sentence of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” tells the reader: “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.” Already, we have a distinctive voice—somewhat distant, possibly ironic—referring to grandmother with a definite article. And we have a sense of characterization: a stubborn or determined elderly woman.

Although we do not know the precise setting, we can rule out Plato’s Athens, Italy under the Borgias and countless others. Yet what matters most is that we have direction—that O’Connor’s opening is not static.

The sentence you are currently reading has the potential to brand itself indelibly upon our cultural consciousness and to alter the course of Western Civilization. But what author doesn’t dream of crafting an opening line that will achieve the iconic recognition of “Call me Ishmael,” or the staying power of “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth …”?

In writing, as in dating and business, initial reactions matter. Appel is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City.

Never forget that the entire course of a story or novel, like an avalanche, is largely defined within its first seconds.