I absolutely love going into bookstores and smelling new books. When you crack open a book, what do you smell? Does it fill your senses, like it does mine? I love that new book smell. What draws you into a book besides the cover art and back copy? What is the first thing that really determines if a reader will continue reading your book? The opening lines.
I don’t know what you do when you are looking at a book, but I flip to the first page. I find this is the test on whether I will like a book or not, as I have a short attention span when it comes to what I read. I’ve struggled getting into books when reading some first lines which resulted in my setting the book down on the shelf again. But then there have been other books where I have found myself reaching for the next page inquisitively.
That is true of every piece of work out there! If the first sentence or first paragraph doesn’t make me want to keep reading, then I close the book and set it back on the shelf. I like it when an author pulls me into a story filled with intriguing characters, unique plot, and beautiful prose from the get go.
Do you want your readers to continue reading after the first line and first paragraph? Do you want your readers to be spellbound with your words from the first line of your book?
If you answered yes, then I believe I know a way to help you make your opening lines sparkle & shine.
I have heard many people say that there is no rule to writing an opening line for your book, but writers can learn by looking at their favorite books opening lines to see how their favorite authors did it. So, first off – I want you to do something – go get your favorite books out of your bookshelf and look at the opening lines. What makes you want to read on?
Recently, I read a book “The Forgotten Garden” by an Australian Author named Kate Morton. I opened her book in the bookstore and was spell-bound from the words in the first sentence.
“It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.”
Right away this sentence had me asking questions, like “what had she been told? Where was she? And why was she crouching someplace? Was she hiding? And if so who was she hiding from?” When I read the second sentence I was caught up in the tale even more. Before I even knew it, I had finished the first page and found myself turning to the second. At that moment I knew I had a great book in my hand.
After you have figured out what made you want to keep reading, make a list.
My list for Kate Morton’s opening lines:
- After reading it I have somewhat a sense of place
- The first line had me asking questions
- I have a main character who I am interested in knowing more about
- I like the style of writing.
It is a little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead – Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat from book lollipop shoes)
- First question that comes to my mind is “why are letters being delivered to the dead?”
- Just the voice and style make me inquisitive.
- It was somewhat shocking and dark (I like to have dark elements in my stories as well, so I can bring light out of the darkness at the end.)
- The detailed prose in how she wrote it
After knowing what you like in an opening line, you can use that information while writing yours. For instance, I really like how Joanne Harris wrote her opening line with such beautiful prose and tone. And with Kate Morton’s opening line, I really love how I have that sense of place, a person, and her thoughts. I like that both of these examples filled my mind with questions right away. I wanted answers and in order to find out the answers, I had to read on. (You get the idea, soon you are hooked!)
First off, write your book so you know where your story begins (Click to Tweet), where your characters are, and so you know your world and setting. Then you know everything about your story. While writing, just make sure you get the story out on paper before worrying about the opening line. Because while writing I have spent a majority of time trying to make my first chapter perfect and then you don’t move on.
When writers edit their WIPs, they work and rework their opening lines. Take into consideration the list you made of what you liked about your favorite authors first lines. Make your opening line, make your reader want read on.
Some Things to remember while editing:
- Capture your “Who” – And I am not talking about your own little fluff with a little world on it called Who-Vill. Even thought Horton had his Who’s. haha! (Not all first lines have a distinct “Who” in it. Joanne Harris’ example had no “Who”, but Kate Morton’s does.
- Use your voice – It is important you write true to yourself. Let your muse speak – don’t use someone else’s voice.
- Give a sense of conflict – This is shown in Kate Morton’s first lines “as she crouched”. It gives the sense that she is hiding. She may not be in trouble, but it has the reader wondering.
- Set the tone – Joanne Harris wrote with a mystical and eerie tone in the example up above with the letters to the dead. Which I really like, because it has you asking, “Why are letters going to the dead?” and it made me read on.
- Make the readers ask a bunch of questions after reading your first line.