Trying to write a book is like trying to carry out a scientific investigation; theres a lot involved. First there's the planning, research, more planning, experimenting with time frames, characters, plots. You've also got to decide on an aim. Where do you want this book to take your readers? How are you going to get them there? And so on and so forth. In essence, it takes a lot of time and effort just to get to the point where you are ready to write your first draft!
While planning for my current book I've, at times, struggled to know where to start. So, after doing lots of planning and research, taking notes, scribbling ideas, writing possible paragraphs/chapters, I started thinking about what it is that makes me read a book myself.
I realised that, although I try and not judge a book by it's cover, I will often judge a book by its opening line! Especially if I'm in a rush and just looking for something to read on a journey, for example. I will pick up the book, barely even look at the cover or title and turn straight to the first chapter. If the first sentence grabs me I may not even read the blurb. Of course, this is not how I’ve chosen every book I've read, however, it has led to some fascinating discoveries!
So, I thought I would look a little closer at some of my favourite first liners.
My absolute favourite is from Jeff Noon's Vurt. I adore this book and have continued to read Jeff Noons work. I came across this book while out window shopping. It was in a basket outside a charity shop and was 50p. The cover had a yellow feather on the front but I didn't pay much more attention than that. I opened it to the first page:
"A young boy puts a feather in his mouth..."
And that was that. I paid my 50p and was thrown into the amazing world of Jeff Noon. (If you haven't come across Noon, I strongly recommend you do!) My collection has since grown, and continues to do so!
My other favourite first liners include:
Rob Grant Incompetence
"The flight was uneventful enough, except the pilot accidentally touched down at a slightly wrong airport and forgot to lower the landing gear, so we left the plane by way of the emergency chute, and I lost my shoes."
Margret Atwood The Handmaids Tale
"We slept in what had once been the gymnasium."
David Wong (AKA Jason Pargin) John Dies at the end
"Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt"
Kathleen Tessaro Innocence
"The first thing you should know about Robbie is she's dead."
Jeff Abbot Fear
"I killed my best friend"
I started to notice that the opening lines of these books tend to leave you with unanswered questions. For me a successful opening line leads you to want to read more. It seems you don't always need to introduce your story, but instead, pull your reader head first into the thick of it! Although this is far from the only way to start a book, and there are many famous and fantastic books that start less full on and ease you in, for me, its the quick hook in and the unanswered questions that get me, well, hooked!
So, how good will my first line be? Time will tell. But, funnily enough I am going to leave this until I’ve finished my first draft. I think it will naturally evolve anyway so am going to let it grow and develop as I discover the story itself.
While researching first line techniques I stumbled upon this amazing blog article called 6 ways to hook your readers from the very first line. In fact, Susannah Windsor Freeman’s whole website Write it sideways is definitely worth exploring! It is packed with a treasure trove of resources, inspiration and tips to help you through your writing journey.
What are your favourite first lines? What gets you hooked?
I look forward to hearing your favourites!