Yes, the first line is an important part of the story because it sets the tone of the book. It has to convey emotion while giving the readers just enough information to hook them into wanting to know more. It’s tricky because you can’t give too much information or the reader may form a negative opinion about a main character or event.
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?
Finding a good first line is definitely a challenge. With FINDING OUT, I had to go back and re-write the first line a few times before I got it right. My technique is to figure out what is going to make the readers sit up and take notice of the character as she starts her journey. Then I pass it by my husband who is an avid reader. If he is intrigued, then I know I’ve hit the mark.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
I read a story about a famous writer from the 1920s who was sailing to Europe from the United States. A woman arrived on deck one afternoon with a copy of his newest novel. The woman was excited to read it and sat in a chaise lounge. The proud author waited in the background to see her reaction. After reading for about three minutes, she rose from the chaise lounge, walked to the railing and threw the book overboard. He was crushed but then realized that if you don’t have a great ‘hook’ then you don’t have an audience. The story is supposedly true. I wish I could remember the author.
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read?
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
And can you recall a worst?
I can’t recall a worst.
What is one of your own best first lines?
My best first line is:
“I can’t believe my friends were right,” was all Sheila Davenport could think as she stared at Joe.
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
Since FINDING OUT is my first novel, I don’t have a worse first line yet. However, I am working on a second novel so let’s hope the first line doesn’t end up as the answer to this question. ;-)
What are some things a first line shouldn’t be?
A first line shouldn’t be preachy. Trying to sway a reader to think a certain way is a massive turn off.
What are some things that you’ve read in first lines that really rubs you the wrong way?
Reading about the end of the story always annoys me. It takes away the feeling of discovery because I ultimately know what is going to happen.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line?
One suggestion is to write the line on a piece of paper and read it over the course of a few days and at different times of the day. When you read it on day three, is it still fresh? Are you still hooked? Also, when you read it in the morning, does it make you want to stop what you’re doing and think? Last, when you read it at night, does it wake you up a little or do you just want to go sleep? A great first line should hook you every time. Once it does, be sure to pass it by someone you trust.
Have you heard any great advice yourself?
The best advice I heard is that writing it work. Novels do not come from a magical place. They are the result of actual writing, re-writing, and editing. If you put in the work, then great results can follow.