Saturday, July 25, 2009

A novel’s first sentences

I’ll say it up front: I’m a real sucker for a good first sentence in a novel. I may read on if the sentence is ho-hum, but I’ll read more eagerly if the first sentence pulls me into the story.

Like many readers I’ll peruse the books on a shelf and pick up novels by authors I’ve previously enjoyed or select a book whose title or cover catches my eye. I’ll flip it over and read the back cover copy and then turn to the first page. Reading the first lines of a novel is like going out on a blind date, I don’t know what to expect, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised, swept off my feet, and fall madly in love.

Some people contend that the most difficult sentences to write in a novel are the first ones. After all, they are the hook that draws people in. My favorite first sentences are the ones that make me ask, “what??” —the lines that peak my curiosity and leave me panting for more. Please don’t give me a weather report or tell me what the character looks like. I want to read a provocative statement or a question that has me hungering for an answer.

Of course there are some first lines from bestselling authors that are so boring I want to toss the book across the room, but then because it was written by a bestselling author, I read on. After all, their books sell, and they could probably post their grocery list on the first page and people would read on. However, for the rest of us authors, we need to give our readers some lines that will keep them engaged.

Here are a few of my favorite first lines:

Keep reading . . .

3 comments:

lynnrush said...

Right on. I love catchy first sentences as well. I'll hold on for the first few pages....after that...if I'm not pretty stoked about the book, I'll shut it.

First lines are so important.

Tara said...

First lines have to rock, but I'm a forgiving reader. Once I decide to read a book, I'll finish it--even if it isn't brillant.

Terra said...

Here are two first sentences from books I am reading.
From The Camel Bookmobile.
"The child, wide-legged on the ground, licked dust off his fist and tried to pretend he was tasting camel milk."
This is a must read book, IMO.
The next opening sentence from my current reading is from Blood Rites, by Jim Butcher.
"The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault."
I don't decide to buy based on first sentences, but as a reader and as a writer, I relish writing that is compelling.