Most writers will tell you that the most important sentence in their novel is the first one. It is the hook, the thing that is going to turn readers on and get them to finish the book. Without that first sentence, you could have a best seller but it never makes it off the shelves. Readers perusing Barnes and Nobel will lift a book off the shelf because of the cover art. They will skim the storyline on the back or inside front flap and then read that first sentence. If that sentence grabs their attention then, they will read on. A great example can be seen in Barbara Delinsky’s best selling book Suddenly. “Paige Pfeiffer ran at the front of the pack, setting a pace that a less bold thirty-nine-year-old might not dare, but she had a point to prove and a bet to win.” With Suddenly readers are drawn in and want to know what bet Paige is trying to win, and why it is so important.
Richard Paul Evans is a mastermind when it comes to fiction. He wrote perhaps one of my all time favorite first lines. “Italians think of God as a fellow countryman, and walking a gravel incline alongside a Chianti vineyard, I wonder if they might not be right.” The Last Promise. Wow! I can feel myself there in Italy and I have never set foot on foreign soil.
These are just some examples of how best selling authors write their opening lines. Richard Paul Evans was not always the best selling author though. Before he became the author, he is today he was a struggling writer just like the rest of us. Struggling authors now number in the millions, and with social media, self-publishing, sites like WattPad and Fanfiction there is a lot of writing out there. Not all of the self-published books are worth reading. I have down loaded for free or bought for a dollar e-books that were not worth the time it took to down load them. Authors who couldn’t hook me with the first line, and then proceeded to butcher the rest of the book. Sadly though I have purchase print books that were just as bad, print books that made it through the scrutinty of a publishing house and still lack that certain something needed to draw the reader in.
Some of the better and yet still less known authors include Lisa Tucker, whose novel In The Winters in Bloom, has that certain special hook.“He was the only child in a house full of doubt.” While I just recently picked it up, I cannot wait to read this book. I long to know more about the child. Another first line that I came across the other day was from James Marrow’s book The Last Witchfinder. In it Marrow writes, “May I speak candidly, fleshing, one rational creature to another, myself a book and you the reader.” What a unique way to present the opening of the novel.
Authors who write first lines that border on hooking their reader but do not quite make it shouldn’t be too concerned if the second-line sinks in. Take Lisa Unger for example. In Black Out, Unger writes,“Today something interesting happened.” But then she follows that up with “I died.” And goes into her opening paragraph “How awful, they’ll say. How tragic. And she was so young, with everything ahead of her.” Another example is a new author I met through a writing group on Facebook. Jennifer McArdle has the knack for first lines down as well. Her opening of Back By Dawn, “My parents are vampires.” While the first line is intriguing, it is the follow up that makes the reader what to know more, to find out where the story is going and keeps them on the page.
When trying to develop the first line that works and hooks the readers, join critique groups. Work with others and always be willing to have an open mind.
*Jennifer McArdle can be found on Facebook
**Find Back by Dawn @ Amazon