First Lines


Grabbing your readers attention in a world where they are bombarded 24/7 is one of the most important lessons a writer must learn. That first sentence can make the difference between success and mediocrity. The gatekeepers in the publishing industry have told us repeatedly, “the first page will make you or break you when you try to sell your book.”

The key to setting your writing apart from the competition is to do something new when you start with the action in your story. Obviously stay away from the old clichés. When I teach a writing class, we discuss great opening lines from literature. My favorite examples of what not to use include weather, the protagonist’s reflection in a mirror, and the character’s startled awakening from a deep sleep. How many stories have started with “it was a dark and stormy night?” If you’re like me and a Peanuts cartoon fan, then you get an image of Snoopy sitting on his doghouse with his typewriter when you read any facsimile of the line. However, that isn’t where the phrase actually originated. The infamous phrase comes from the beginning of Paul Clifford, an 1830’s novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

One of my favorite first lines is from James Clavell’s, Shogun, “The gale tore at him and he felt its bite deep within and he knew that if they did not make landfall in three days they would all be dead.” The reader has to find out what happens. Start with the action and pull your reader in. Make them empathize with your main character quickly. Hook your reader in the beginning and then keep them turning pages.