It’s commonly believed that a writer has three paragraphs to either catch up a reader, to make them want to read the entire story, or to lose them forever. I think it’s less. I think a writer has one paragraph, or even only one sentence, to draw in a reader. That first sentence.
Sentence number one doesn’t have to describe the hero or the plot or the setting, though some of them do. What that sentence does have to do in order to snag my interest and get me to read further, is to tell me about the tone of the story, and the tone of the writing. Is it going to be a humorous book? Will I be scared? Is this writer angry and hoping to incite the reader to join him? Is the writer going to transport me to somewhere new, to take me on an adventure?
Here are some of my favorite first lines, from some of my favorite books:
“Since dawn I had climbed up and down the steep mountain slopes and pushed my way through the dense valley forests.” (In the Shadow of Man, Jane Goodall)
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.” (True Grit, Charles Portis)
“It was a hell of a night for an elopement.” (The Abduction of Julia, Karen Hawkins)
“When Lucy Marinn was seven years old, three things happened: Her little sister Alice got sick, she was assigned her first science fair project, and she found out that magic existed.” (Rainshadow Road, Lisa Kleypas)
“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a miscroscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” (The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells)
“The great fish moved silently through the night water propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.” (Jaws, Peter Benchley)
Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick, Herman Melville)
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (1984, George Orwell)
Here’s my first first line, from my first book: “It was one thing to dream about being a lady in distress, Katherine Ralston had recently realized, and quite another entirely to be one.” (The Black Duke’s Prize, Suzanne Enoch)
And this one if from my latest book, coming in October of this year: “There were some pieces of advice, Sophia White reflected as she clung to the overturned coach’s wheel in the middle of the half frozen River Aire, that one should simply not ignore.” (Rules to Catch a Devilish Duke, Suzanne Enoch)
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you the first line from my March 27th book: “Keating Blackwood came awake with the sharpness of gunfire.” (Taming an Impossible Rogue, Suzanne Enoch)
Just looking up some of these first lines makes me want to read the books all over again. My Kindle went on overload this morning. Do you have a favorite first line? Have you ever picked up or rejected a book based on its first sentence? What’s the first line of the book you’re reading right now?