Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Thoughts on First Lines

Okay, so there is a lot of talk on the blogosphere about grabbing people with the first line. (Okay, don't hate me for what I am going to say in this post - and remember I am not a professional. These are just my thoughts.)

I don't know what the big deal is.

I have never read a book because the first line grabbed my attention. In fact, of all the books I have read (even the ones I read over and over again), I cannot remember the first line of a single one.

So how do I choose what to read? Simple:

  1. The Author: If I have read their work before and liked it - I will pick up pretty much anything else they have written. Until I get turned off from them - but that is a discussion for another day.
  2. The Cover: Okay, this is not to say that the cover has to be to die for. But if the cover tells a bit of the story and I am interested - then I will most likely pick it up. Case in point: The Blue Sword is one of my favorite books ever. The cover of the copy I first read had a picture of a girl dressed in Arabian type garb - on a horse with no reigns - and brandishing a blue glowing sword. I picked it up and took it home and read it.
  3. The Blurb: The blurb on the back of the book gives me a snap shot of the story. This is probably the biggest thing that draws me into reading a book. The blurb does not need to be masterfully written. It just has to present the story in a way that would make me want to read it. I would read a book with a blurb like: This orphan boy who takes care of a seer pig, chase her into the woods and ends up on an adventure to save the pig - and the entire land - from a bad guy. (The Book of Three if you were wondering.)
  4. Suggestions: If someone I know and trust (their taste in books) - suggests a book to me. I will read it.

In fact, if I want to sample the writers style before reading a book - I don't open to the first page. I open the the middle and read two paragraphs. Then flip closer to the end a read a few more. But not the first page. (Shocking, I know!)

Just like I don't get pulled into a book by the first line - the first page and the first chapter don't determine whether or not I keep reading. Okay - if a book is really bad I will stop reading. But those kind of books are few and far between. I actually give a book to about a third to half way through before I write it off. Why?

Because a story is more than just one line, or one page, or one chapter. Its the whole story. It is the whole book and sometimes multiple books. For me what makes a book good or bad, or great is the story. So I will endure slow passages, bad dialog, and so forth - as long as I like the story.

So what I am trying to say is... don't spend months or weeks getting the first line, or the first page, or the first chapter just right. Yes, make it good, but then move on. Think of all the books you have read - do you remember the beginning... or the end? For me it is the end. Always the end. Focus more on the complete story.

Now I am not saying this will help your book sell. I am saying this will help your book stick in the heart of your readers. This will make them come back over and over. I have read The Blue Sword five times. Yep, five. And I plan to read it several more times in my life. That is the kind of book I want to write. What is the first line? I don't remember. What was the first chapter about? I vaguely remember. But everything from about half way through to the end I remember in vivid detail.

This is the kind of book I want to write.

Okay - I get that this is probably controversial - so what are your thoughts on first lines? And what helps you decide whether or not to read a book


  1. I agree, The cover or the author is usually the first draw for me, next would be recommendations from ppl I trust.

    I will usually crack a book open and sample the read from a couple locations and see how it feels. If it doesn't catch me right away. No need, I won't finish it.

    Very good thoughts on the subject.


  2. I agree that when reading novels, I don't get stopped up by the first line. I have, however, stopped reading a book within the first few pages.

    But went it comes to writing--I think of it as more that the first line needs to be representative of the very best of my abilities. And it does have to be perfect. Every line in the entire novel needs to be written and rewritten and edited until it is perfect--including the first line, the 1,000th line and the last line.

  3. Wily, I need yo be better about putting down books that don't grab me. I just hate not knowing what happens :)

    Heidi, I agree. Your writing should all be polished. I can't use the term perfect for my own work because then I would never finish anything :)

  4. Perhaps it's about grabbing the agent with the first line, rather than the reader ;-)

  5. I didn't even know I felt like this! I totally agree.

  6. Can you imagine someone deciding not to read a book because they didn't like the first sentence? Crazy.

    I do recognize when I am being pulled into a story, though, and that often happens in the first two or three pages. It usually takes me until about page fifty to decide if I'm going to finish a book or not. If I get that far and I'm still interested in what's happening then I usually see it through to the end.

  7. @Sarah, I think you are right :)
    @Misty, Yea! I like when people agree with me :)
    @L.G. I agree. You have to give a story a little time.

    I admit when I first started hearing all the first line hype - I panicked baecause I don't have a great first line. It is great to hear other readers give a story more of a chance.

  8. I wonder...I always thought the 'first line' thing was for Queries, but even that I don't understand. Yeahh..I agree with you, EVERYONE judges books on their covers. If they're cool, peeps are like "Heyyy" and then they read the back...or whatevers. I have to at least read the first page before I'm like "Ehhhh".

    LOL. :D

  9. I agree, I don't remember reading a book for a good first line, with the exception of To Kill a Mockingbird with the line about Jem breaking his arm. That was an interesting hook. I strongly believe that a blurb on the back of the book should get the reader's attention and then the first chapter should hook the reader or they will put it down.

    Good post!

  10. @Ashley, I totally agree. I wonder what would happen if someone put out a bool with a cool cover that had nothing to do with the actual story...

    @Krista M, I depend on the blurb. It gives such a good insight into what you are about to read.