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Don't believe the hype about a novel's first line

January 7, 2018

Like most aspiring authors, I read a lot of books and blogs about writing books.  Recently, I’ve been drawn to blogs about the importance of a novel’s opening line.  That first lines are powerful is no secret, but as I’ll prove below, a mind-blowing first line isn’t a requirement for a bestselling author.

 

 

I’ve excerpted the first line from ten different books, all by well-known bestsellers, from my personal library:

 

            1.         “It started simply enough.” 

 

            2.         “I knew Ranger was beside me because I could see his earring gleaming in the moonlight.” 

 

            3.         “The rolling hills of southeast Oklahoma stretch from Norman across to Arkansas and show little evidence of the vast deposits of crude oil that were once beneath them.” 

 

            4.         “He should never have taken the shortcut.”

 

            5.         “Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.”

 

            6.         “The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.” 

 

            7.         “They called it taking four.”

 

            8.         “It was November, cold and wet in west Arkansas, a miserable dawn following on a miserable night.”

 

            9.         “I first met Frank Bellarosa on a sunny Saturday in April at Hicks’ Nursery, an establishment that has catered to the local gentry for over a hundred years.”

 

            10.       “Robert Langdon awoke slowly.”

 

None of these opening lines provides deep insight into the story line or the main character.  Not one grips so tightly that the reader feels an overwhelming compulsion to see the story to the end.   In fact, if you don’t recognize these first lines, it’s difficult to discern the book’s genre.

 

As a reader, I’ve never judged a book by its first line.  Of the handful of books I’ve been unable to complete, including one about a girl with a tattoo, I’ve at least given the work a minimum of 30 pages to reel me in. 

 

So what’s my point here?  New writers feel the crushing pressure of nailing the first line.  Perhaps they should learn from the masters, including those I’ve quoted, and realize that the slow simmer of a first line can be as impactful as a life-threatening explosion. 

 

 

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