Happy 2018! Since we’re still early in the new year, assessing our goals, and planning our lofty writing aspirations, I decided to research starts. And by starts, I mean first sentences from a variety of novels whether a classic or from an emerging author, i.e., still building their backlist, brand, and fan base.
We all know about the all-important hook and how crucial it is to engage readers and capture their interest so that they’ll devour our novel as if it’s the best grilled cheese in the world. In this burgeoning publishing marketplace, readers are pulled in a gazillion directions. New authors sprout like dandelions in the spring. Therefore, our first sentence, first paragraph, and first page must grab readers by the throat and never let go until they reach The End and move on to the next book, or better yet, said reader becomes enthralled with our work and goes straight to Amazon to purchase our backlist. We can dream, right?
Let’s look at a sampling of classic first lines by famous authors (in no particular order–just catchy openings I admire).
- “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984 by George Orwell
- “Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- “You better not never tell nobody but God.” The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- “Don’t look for dignity in public bathrooms.” Big Machine by Victor LaValle
- “I’m pretty much fucked.” The Martian by Andy Weir
- “It was a pleasure to burn.” Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- “We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Now, for the really fun part of my research! I reviewed first sentences by fellow Soul Mate Publishing authors. Again, these are in no particular order. Some are new releases and some are not. I wish I could have included more, but space and attention spans are limited. Enjoy.
- “Something scraped against the floor.” Releasing the Demons by L.D. Rose
- “Mate with me, Lily.” Prisoner of Fate (Book 3) by Tami Lund
- “As Godred’s oarsmen shoved off from the jetty, Somerled wondered if there was any man less suitable to deliver a marriage proposal.” Scent of the Soul by Julie Doherty
- “Isabella stumbled as she got out of bed and tried to balance herself on the stumps that now served as permanent legs.” Between Land and Sea by Joanne Guidoccio
- Beep. Beep. Beeeeeee… The monitor measured the final heartbeat of Christopher Johnson’s life.” (okay, Steve got two sentences!) Z-Bot by S.C. Mitchell
- “Through the open window, the scent of meat grilling over charcoal reached Tim O’Malley.” Jesse’s Girl by Char Chaffin
- “Birthdays bite,” Sherry muttered. Time and Forever by Susan B. James
- “Die, die, die,” Madison Sinclair chanted in a low but fierce voice. Angel in the Shadows by Amy Deason
Aren’t those opening lines great? Note the variety and how each one pulls you in and insists you know more. I can’t finish this post without including two of my first sentences. (I skipped my holiday novels and you’ll have to wait two months to hear the opening for my newest novel, Chaos At Coconuts.)
“I can’t go through with this.” Thursdays At Coconuts by Beth Carter
“Pepper mouthed a silent prayer, even though she wasn’t particularly religious.” Sleeping With Elvis by Beth Carter
Are you ready to one click the novels listed above? I am. As you can see, there are many ways to begin a book. Authors use humor, dialogue, action, setting, shock value and/or they establish tone and voice, to name a few possibilities. Personally, I prefer shorter opening hooks and those that are funny, mysterious, action or dialogue driven. Let me know your favorite first sentence in the comments.
Find Beth Carter’s novels and children’s picture books on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/author/bethcarter
Sources: Ranker, Gawker, BuzzFeed, Amazon, and Soul Mate Publishing