Once a reader opens the cover of the book, (according to some) the author has a short window of opportunity in order to grab the readers attention. It’s no surprise that most of the time you can tell if you will like a book based on the first line. A good opening line causes the reader to think, it slowly pulls them in, but most importantly it gets them wanting more.
Earlier this week I asked both writers and reviewers what their favorite opening line was. And although the responses varied in regards to genres, they were all surprisingly (or maybe not) similar.
“It was a beautiful day. It was a beautiful field. Except for the body.” – I hunt killers by Barry Lyga.
This line was given by ravenandbeez. When asked why this line was captivating, the response was easy, “I still haven’t read it but the mystery aspect of it is so strong. I just need to know more.”
TheTattooedBookGeek felt similar about his passage:
“Before she became the Girl from Nowhere-the One Who walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years-she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy.”- The Passage (Passage trilogy book 1) by Justin Cronin.
When asked what it was that made him place this book from the maybe read into the definitely reading pile, he said, “I’d say as it really intrigued me but also because it made me think that Amy (the girl) was going to have a big part in the story and made me want to find out more.”
Here are a couple other responses I received:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.“- Hobbit
“Maybe he should have been more worried about the ghost detector going off.”– Labyrinth A Greywalker novel by Kat Richardson
“Morganville, Texas, isn’t like any other dusty small town. It’s got secrets. It’s a company town…and the company is vampires.”– The Morganville Vampires Daylighters by Rachel Caine
Most of the responses I received talked about the books inquisitiveness and how it pulled them in. However, lines that fail to deliver this “pulling effect”, are most often categorized as boring, plain, or lack information. Hallie offered her advice on what she felt successful first lines need: “The first line needs to be something that can make you smile, or make your jaw drop, or perhaps make you curious.”
Ok, so what does this mean to writers. Well, according to some- not much. Yes, first lines are great, but some argue they don’t make or break the success of your book. According to one goodreads critic, Jp, their advice:
“There are a number of things that must be done in the first chapter of a book–and they can be learned. If you’ve done all of them, and well, you might have a successful book. No telling. You must do what you do in your own way and tell the story as only you can.
If you’re submitting a book to an agent or a publisher, you can be rejected for any number of reasons, not always having to do with what you wrote. The thing is not to be discouraged, but to keep writing.”
According to Sequoia, author and critic, it’s not just the first line but the first seven that have meaning.
“When I was in graduate school, a professor introduced me to something she called the 7 sentence rule. Basically, within 7 sentences (give or take), the reader should have a pretty good sense about at least one (but ideally 2-3 or more) of the following: main character, central tension, a theme, setting. As a creative writing professor, I stress this to my students. As an editor, I usually know if I’m going to accept or reject a piece by the end of the first or second paragraph.”
In the end, what do we walk away with? Well, I’m not honestly sure there is a right or wrong answer here. I think everyone is different. Someone once told me, “Books are like clothing in that what one person likes, the next person wouldn’t like at all. it’s very personal.”
I hope everyone has an enjoyable weekend!