The Infamous First Line

It nearly killed me but I slayed it.

See? If you opened a book and this was the first line, wouldn’t you want to read on to find out what I slayed, how it nearly killed me, and why we were at odds in the first place?

Grabbing the reader’s attention with those first words is essential, and a task I take to heart.

There are a million and one ways to word the first sentence in a novel. It’s up to the writer to get it right, and that can be a trying process.

So, how do you find that perfect sentence?

First…Here’s a tip. Go to the bookstore and randomly pick up books and read their first lines. You will see how quickly a book can turn you on or turn you off, thus the importance of choosing the right words.

Second…know where your story begins and where it’s going. This is really the most important part. The story should begin in the moment at which the rest of the story becomes inevitable. It’s the trigger for everything that follows. If you really know what that moment is, the first line is easier to create.

So what about knowing where the story is going? Why is that important?

Well…these really aren’t necessities, because I’ve read many novels that did not abide either of these rules, but the first sentence often A) sums up the entire story, or B) provides a link to the story ending.

Third…wait until you’ve written the entire novel (at least the first draft) to write the first line. This helps with A and B above. Knowing what happens in the middle and how the novel ends can help you provide that link in the beginning, whether it is simply a clue or a short summary.

Fourth…provide shock value. First sentences are often a little off the wall, but that’s what makes them stand out.

And last but not least…try TRIAL AND ERROR. Grab a notebook and have at it. Write sentence after sentence after sentence.

I figured out my own first line by doing all five of the above.

So…if you are at your wits end trying to figure out the infamous first line, I hope these tips help.

If you’ve already wrangled it, what was the process like?

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