Have you ever read the first line or paragraph of a book and questioned whether you should keep reading?
I’ve been known to carry around an arm full of books at Powell’s before setting up shop and reading through the first page of each one. This helps me narrow down the books that I want to spend my money on.
Now, some of you might be in an uproar! You’re not giving books a fair chance! Keep reading past the first page, it might get better! And I know that you’re right! I have pushed through terrible first sentences or pages and found a book that I’ve loved.
But to be honest, I don’t have a lot of reading time anymore. Before the kids, I had loads of time! Now, I’m working full time, part time on my book and full-time wife + bonus-momming it up. That leaves me very little time to read so I’ve started to be pickier.
As both a reader and a writer - I’ve come to know how crucial your first line is. It truly is what lures your reader into the gutter to read the story you’ve been slaving over. You want it to make their eyes pop, to make them pull the book a little closer and settle into whatever chair they’re sitting in. I’ve spent a lot of time working on my first lines and my beginnings. So when I had someone beta-read my current work-in-progress, I experienced a moment of great pride when my reader said, “I loved your first line! It was awesome.”
Best feeling ever.
But it wasn’t an easy thing to come up with. It took me a couple of revisions, a point-of-view that belongs to a dead girl and a lot of planning.
I owe a lot of how I write beginnings to the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference a couple of years ago. I went to a session hosted by Paula Munier who is a Senior Literary Agent and Content Strategist at Talcott Notch Literary Services. She gave some excellent tips on beginnings and what will make an agent stop reading based on some of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing!
Never open a book with the weather!
Why? It’s boring!
But if you must start your book with the weather, it should be bad weather. It needs to propel your plot and have an adverse effect on your hero.
The reader knows that this isn’t where the story starts. There are times that you may need a prologue but don’t call it a prologue. Get creative, use a device - diary, transcript, news clipping. Finally, keep it short.
Please, don’t let them be dreaming! The protagonist isn’t active and it has been used too many times.
Don’t start with a character alone. If you must have them be alone, they better be doing something super compelling like finding a corpse or planting a bomb.
So what do you start with?
Start with action! Something that moves the plot forward or something that shocks the reader into reading more. And if you have to do any of the above - make sure you do it well.