In a society, with a short attention span, it is essential to get it right from the start. How do you draw people in to read what you have written? It is simple, you write a killer first line.
When writing an article I spend as much time on the first line as I do on the headline. Both are essential to pull readers in. My first line is not always the first line I write. Sometimes I get into the writing and then revisit the first line.
Here are a couple of killer first lines from famous books.
I’m pretty much fucked.
Andy Weir, The Martian
If you have read the book or seen the film you pretty much know this line sums up the story.
I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeward that Truth is a better if imagination.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Now I have never read this book but after this first line, the book is on my wish list.
How do you write your killer first line?
- If it fits in with the genre of your book, make your first line surprising and funny,
It was a pleasure to burn
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
- Start in the middle of the action. Every event that happens from this point is the front story and should be in chronological order. Everything that happened before your first line is backstory and can be told in any order you want. Margaret Atwood’s, Handmaids Tale starts as the world is in turmoil. Everything that happened before this point is told as backstory.
The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
Stephen King, The Gunslinger
- Start with dialogue that intrigues the reader. We do not need to know who the character is or even their name. If you start with witty quick dialogue the reader will want to find these things out and read on
I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
- Start with conflict, a situation where the reader does not know where the writing is going. How will the character get out of this situation? Where could this story be going?
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 100 Years of Solitude
- Start with a provocative line that will have more than half the readers arguing with you. Be careful not to make this line so provocative that people refuse to read on. Make the line provocative enough for people to want to read on.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice
Recently I have become somewhat obsessed with first lines. When I read I analyse the first lines to see what drew me in. I also analyse books I didn’t finish to see what I didn’t like about their first lines. I keep a journal of first lines from books.
If you have read this far then I did OK with my first line. It is important to remember reading is subjective. What one person will love, another will hate. The only thing you can hope for is to appeal to more people than not.
Research your own favourite books and see what their first line is. Share with me through the comments some of your favourite first lines.