The Very Important Must-Read Discussion on First Lines

The opening line of your book is your first (and, if you don’t take advantage of it, last) opportunity to grab your readers’ attention and give them a reason to read your story.

-K. M. Weiland

The first line of your book is the book’s first impression. It gives the readers a lot more information than you might think. It’s your books resume. If I’m ambling around the bookstore, looking for something to occupy ten hours of my time, I’m picky. And if I’m not hooked by the first sentence, I’m much less willing to read on, and especially less willing to buy the book.

This sentence has a large responsibility. It’s supposed to hook your reader, and introduce a whole lot of stuff, including character, tone, and setting. It’s supposed to make them ask a question. It makes them wonder.

Now of course, not every first line can meet all of these ideals. And, there are some pretty good first lines that don’t. But the best ones at least introduce three out of the four requirements. Here are a few.

There is only one mirror in my house.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

This first line possesses all of the ideals. Character, setting, tone, and it causes the reader to ask the question.

The character is introduced very simply. The use of the word my. Very easy. But necessary. Why? It establishes the connection between the reader and the protagonist as early as possible, rather than wait until a paragraph or two later. The bond is already beginning to grow.

Setting is again only hinted, but a hint is all we need. My house. Again, Roth jumps in and give the reader a head-start. She does not go at great lengths to describe it. We only know there is one mirror inside. It does not leave the character my with a blank white backdrop. It introduces the house.

Tone. Roth is very blunt. She doesn’t go into flowery description. She says what she has to say and leaves it at that, as she does later in the book as well. Beatrice’s modest way of speaking is clearly displayed in this lead. Abnegation traits already start to leak in. Simplicity for one. This is the tone, established in the first sentence.

Lastly, it brings about the questionWhy is there only one mirror in her house? Good first lines may introduce more than one question. The only one we don’t want is What the heck is going on here? or anything like that. It needs to be specific.

Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Character is introduced. I.

We sadly can’t say the same about setting. Not every first line has everything. But Riordan makes up for it in the next to first line ideals.

Tone. Conversational. Blatant.

The question. What’s a half-blood? Why don’t you want to be a half-blood?

Fern was looking out her bedroom window in her grandmother’s house for a runaway rhinoceros.

The Nobodies by N. E. Bode

Character is introduced very well with the protagonist’s name. Fern. Immediately a connection is made.

Setting is described well. She’s in her bedroom at her grandmother’s house, looking out the window. Another connection.

Tone. Comical. Again, very blunt. Having not read the book, I do not know whether the tone is like this for the rest of the book or this first line is blatant for a better hook. But whatever it is, it works.

The question. I bet you can think of plenty.

Character, setting, tone, and the all-important question are very important for first lines. You make a bond between reader and MC. You let them visualize where that character is. You establish the tone of the book, whether quick or slow. And lastly, you get them to dig for answers as they read on.

Hosanna in the highest.


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