Whether you're pitching a book to a literary agent, trying to lure readers to dig into their pockets and buy your book, or hoping to impress an editor, the first line of your novel counts. Big time.
Ever shake someone's hand only to discover they've got cold skin, sweaty palms, and a grip like a turnip? A weak first line has the same effect.
But what is a good first line? The Review Board at Writer's Relief reads many first lines when we have a call for submissions. Some first lines catch us more than others. A good first line will often multitask, accomplishing many things all at once. A first line can:
• Establish tone
• Hint at conflict or theme
• Lure with the promise of some reward (reward meaning: the emotional reward of reading the book)
• Cause an instant emotional reaction, connection to character, and/or fascination with scene
Some first lines are so intense and effective that they go down in history as household phrases ("Call me Ishmael," anyone?).
Look at the great first sentences in the slideshow below. The moral of the story is that the first line of your novel must be a good one, and it has to knock readers over, including literary agents and book editors.
That said, here's our caution: Don't overthink it. You shouldn't need to force an opening line when you're composing it. Trust those deeper, animal parts of your brain to do the hard work of creating it.
If the line you come up with doesn't feel natural, then it's probably not the right opening line for your book. So be patient with yourself and know that some writers don't come up with a good opening line until they've written the last line.
For more on writing and publishing, visit our website at www.WritersRelief.com. Writer's Relief helps creative writers research, target, and submit their work to literary agents and editors. Clients by invitation only. Review Board is currently open for submissions but will soon close, then put out another call in two to four months.