They’ll both make you an offer you can’t refuse.
That first line has to grab the reader and offer him the lure of an adventure so compelling he or she can’t walk away.
It can grab you by the heart strings if it’s a tear-jerker, or by the throat if it’s an adventure. Sometimes it takes you by the hand and leads you, and sometimes it gets you by the hair and won’t let go.
A great first line makes you keep reading—and then you’re hooked.
What makes a great line? For me, it’s the promise of something exciting and unexpected. If the action begins in the middle of a battle, I want to know who is fighting whom, and why. If the statement is confounding, my curiosity is aroused and I want to know more, like Alice following the rabbit down the hole.
A good first sentence can transport a reader to a different world, or tilt the real world enough to make it a strange and foreboding place, the kind of place where magic and hobgoblins just might exist. It’s the siren’s song and the Pied Piper, the fairies luring you into the mist. Once you set foot along the path, there’s no going back, and if you do return, you’ll be changed. In fact, that’s the bargain. When a reader follows the trail of bread crumbs into the woods, he or she wants to be changed—as well as excited, enthralled and maybe even enlightened. If you’re not different when you come back from an adventure, after all, what was the point?
My new novel, ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS), begins with a man who has reached his breaking point. “This has to end,” Blaine McFadden says. He means the abuse his father has doled out to everyone in the household. But in fact, everything is ending: his life as he knows it, his kingdom, and the magic of the realm. Blaine’s rage sets into motion a chain of events that send him into exile, subject him to grinding hardship—and just might make him the only man who can bring back the magic that was destroyed.
I wanted the reader to ask, “What has to end?” Then, as the next sentences unfold to explain the reason for Blaine’s rage, I want to catch the reader up in the urgency—and the consequences—of the actions he takes. With that sentence, the reader steps onto my roller coaster, and the ride picks up speed with every sentence.
Now that it’s my job to seduce readers with a tempting first line, I find that I have even more respect for the masters who add joy to my life by luring me into their own fictional thrill rides.
So in no particular order, here are some of my favorite first lines from some of my favorite books. These are some of the first lines that led me down the path to adventure. Just reading them brings a thrill of remembered excitement, and the warm feeling of homecoming. A few of my favorite first lines: (more…)