I read a somewhat controversial blog post last week. Controversial in that I didn’t fully agree with some of the “lies” writers believe. One of those myths was the importance of first lines. Should a first line hook the reader?
I did agree with this writer in that many wonderful, superbly written books have first lines that are just so-so. And if we read or not read a book based on the first line, we might miss a lot of great books.
As a writer trying to catch the interest of an agent, then editor, then masses of people – why wouldn’t you put effort into making your first line the best it could be?
Reasons to write a terrific first line: (Or query letter, or first page, first chapter, for that matter – the whole book!)
- A great first line shows the writer worked hard. And most likely will lead to an excellent first page and first chapter.
- After a great first line, you’ve already pulled the reader to your side.
- A great first line shows the writer is in control of their craft. (I have yet to read a book with a terrific first line that wasn’t well written the whole way through.)
- In a world of Kindle samples, you don’t want to give the reader a reason not to pick your book.
- In a world where agents read 50 queries or sample pages in a row, a great first line will go a long way.
Tips for a terrific first line:
- It is not a gimmick.
- It should fit with the tone and style of your story.
- It should raise a question in the reader’s mind.
- It should not be too long or confusing or misleading.
- It should reflect your story whether it’s a mystery or a comedy or a drama.
- It should reflect the voice of your character or your story.
Trouble shooting if you can’t seem to nail that opening line:
- Maybe, possibly, you are starting in the wrong place.
- Maybe your first scene is really a sequel.
- Maybe you don’t have enough conflict or tension in your opening scene.
- Maybe your inciting incident isn’t in your first scene.
- Maybe you are trying too hard and forcing it.
- Just like with everything else in writing – the first line is just as hard. But just as important.
So, do you agree or disagree with the importance placed on first lines these days? Should your first line hook the reader you are targeting? How do beginner writers misinterpret this?