Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
Absolutely, because it’s a hook. Okay, most readers are a little more forgiving and will give a book a chance, at least for the first couple of pages. But a strong opening line is very important. Books are like people – first impressions count for a lot.
Do you find first lines easy to come up with, or challenging? Do you have a technique, or a ritual, that you go by to make it easy?
I don’t have a technique as such – I just try to find the narrative “voice” and then use that to deliver a hook. They usually come easily, because subconsciously I’m in a hurry to get on with the story.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
A bad first line is an instant turn-off. It lessens the chances of a reader finishing the first chapter, which in turn lessens the chances of finishing the book… and starting the next one.
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
Tough question. Not sure I have a favourite, but this is pretty good – from “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson:
On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.
It’s good because it immediately raises questions – who are they, why is it important to get back before they’re in the streets, and get back to where?
And worst? Where to start… Dan Brown, maybe?
Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.
What is one of your own best first lines?
I’m working on a short story at the moment that begins with simply
This is what happened.
For now, I quite like that – it seems to suit the first-person narrative well. I also like “Is she flirting with me?” from my novel-in-progress.
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
“I’m not sure what’s happening.” Not only was it the first line, it was the whole first paragraph. Quiet similar to the line I’ve just quoted as a favourite, I know, but I don’t think it fits with the narrative in this case. That’s a crucial difference.
What are some things a first line *shouldn’t* be? What are some things that you’ve read in first lines that really rubs you the wrong way?
Pointless detail. I don’t need to know that the man was 76 years old or that the woman was 5ft 6, not in the first line. Such detail always feel like primary school writing to me, when a child is just learning to use descriptive words and so throws them in everywhere.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
Don’t agonise over it but do try to hook the reader, even if only subtly. Try to raise a question – give the reader an incentive to persevere.
Do you have any final words?
Yes – buy my books please! Thank you.
Born in East Kent in 1970, Martin Pond was educated at the University of East Anglia. A career in IT followed, and continues to pay the bills. In 2007 Martin made a hesitant return to fiction, not having written seriously since his student days. He returned to UEA too, and took a diploma in Creative Writing.
Martin’s stories have appeared in Unthology No 1, Streetcake magazine and Alliterati magazine, whilst three poems have appeared in The Artillery Of Words magazine.
Martin is currently working on a novel-length work, Drawn To The Deep End, and, as an experiment, is publishing the first draft, unedited, in weekly online instalments.
Martin’s first collection of short fiction, Dark Steps, was published in August 2011. A standalone short, Turn Around Where Possible, followed in January 2012.