Blog Post

The Bang at the Beginning – The First Sentence

by Kristena Mears

I’m a book hoarder.
I have more books than I may ever read but I won’t let that stop me from buying more. Often, I’ll mull aways hours in a bookstore or a library and never buy one book, just to go back another day and come home with a stack chin high.

So what is it that makes us decide to buy one book over another?
Often, it’s that first line or paragraph. 
Every part of the story is important, but nothing is as crucial to captivating the reader as the opening sentence and the first paragraph. If the opening of the book isn’t creative and captivating, the book will go right back up on the store shelf.
There are just too many books and not enough time to read them all, so our interest has to be kidnapped right at the start.

As writers, we know this. Many authors spend months developing that first line. Others will change that first sentence several times before their story goes into print.

Steven King said:
“And over a period of weeks and months and even years, I’ll word and reword it until I’m happy with what I’ve got. If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know I can do the book.”

The first line and paragraph is called the “Hook.” That is exactly what the reader needs. They need to be hooked into the story… into a new world or a new place or time.

Let’s look at a few ways to start our novels off with a bang and force the reader to keep reading. That’s our intention, right? We what them to be so engrossed, that they have to buy our book and finish the story.

The first sentence and paragraph needs to have one, or several of these items.

  1. Mystery – Make the first sentence intriguing or open-ended. Think of it as your complete novel in just a few words, It should be complete in itself. That first sentence should hold the sum of the story and still raise a world of questions.
  2. Jump right in – A point needs to be made. This is no time for fluff or backstory. the push needs to be in a forward direction and push the reader on. Include some essential information that establishes the parameters of your story.
  3. Use Shock value – Catching the reader off guard. Karen Kingsbury in her book One Tuesday Morning starts out like this:
    “There were too many funerals.”
    This line could be an example of all of the first three.
    Is there mystery? Yep. Why are there funerals?.
    Does it jump right in? Sure does.
    Does it shock? Funerals are always shocking.
    What a great first line!
  4. Use humor. There’s nothing better than a good laugh to draw someone to you. It works the same with books. It’s warm and inviting. Humor breaks the ice, whether it’s an opening line of a speech or the first sentence of a book

These are just a few ideas to help.
This is always the hardest part of a book to write and if it’s not right… the rest of the book isn’t either.

What are some of your favorite first lines? Share with use the first line of the book you’re reading now and how it grabs you; or tell us why it doesn’t.

Visits: 160