First Lines – First Impressions

Have you heard the expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Well, so it is with books.

Writing a book is a challenge, but getting people to read it can be even more difficult. It is the author’s job to turn that novel into a page turner. First, though, he has to get someone to start reading. The first page of a book can snag a reader’s interest or have him slap it shut and toss it away, never to be opened again.

A good book will hook the reader on the first page. An excellent book will hook the reader in the first paragraph, or even the first sentence. Authors must not underestimate the importance of that opening line. It is worth spending a lot of time on, if it means getting it right.

What should a first line, or at least a first paragraph, do?

Make the reader:

  • wonder what’s going on
  • wonder what happened and why
  • want to know what will happen next
  • want to know how the situation will be resolved
  • want to turn the page and read more.

The writer has only a few words to convince the reader that his book is worth reading. Please have a look at these opening lines and decide whether you would want to continue reading the book.

1. I knew I must have the wrong address. He was absolutely stunning. My heart fluttered and thudded frantically. Heat rose to my face. I ducked my head in embarrassment, but couldn’t keep my eyes off him. (The Wind Weeps – Anneli Purchase)

2 .I was born twice: first as a girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. (Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides)

3. Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. (Moby Dick – Herman Melville)

4. On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. Bridge. He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase. (Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

5. They say ignorance is bliss. I can vouch for that. My life was humming along just fine until I received that letter. Afterwards, nothing was the same. (Orion’s Gift – Anneli Purchase)

6. Men’s voices, harsh and abrupt, sent a stab of fear through her. She peered cautiously up an alleyway towards the town square. (Julia’s Violinist – Anneli Purchase)

So, for the authors out there, you see that we have our work cut out for us. Let’s shine up our opening pages. Isn’t it worth doing after spending so much time writing a whole book?

 

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