Writing a Catchy First Line
“It was a dark and stormy night…” this particular first line is probably the most quoted and overused phrase in literature, but do you know what book it comes from or who wrote it? Don’t worry, I didn’t either, so I searched it out on Google. The book is called ‘Paul Clifford’ by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and here’s the entire first line:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
That line in its entirety has been the subject of criticism for a very long time as it uses ‘purple prose’ in the very first line of the book. (Look up purple prose on the internet if you don’t know what that is–and don’t beat yourself up, I didn’t know what it meant either.) As an Indie Author, I am constantly learning how to hone my work and in all actuality, every author is always striving for improvement. I personally feel the need to strengthen my ‘first line’ skills for several reasons. First and foremost is the hook. If my reader is not pulled in with the very first line and or first paragraph, I have not done my job very well as an author. Too much information too quickly certainly turns me off as a reader, so why wouldn’t it work the other way around with my readers?
After reading several blogs and articles online from published authors, I found the common consensus is that one should never start their book off by talking about the weather (sorry, Mr. Bulwer-Lytton). I quickly reviewed my own first lines, and whew, I didn’t use weather as my introductory sentence. I decided to investigate a little further into the art of writing powerful first lines and what better place to do that than by going straight to the Best Sellers list on Amazon.com. Here’s what I came up with and you can be the judge of whether or not these first lines hook you as a reader:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling
For Dawson Cole, the hallucinations began after the explosion on the platform, on the day he should have died. – The Best of Me, by Nicholas Sparks
The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building, six and a half million square feet, thirty thousand people, more than seventeen miles of corridors, but it was built with just three street doors, each one of them opening into a guarded pedestrian lobby. –The Affair: A Reacher Novel(Jack Reacher), by Lee Child
The front door slammed and Beth Morehouse hurried out of the kitchen. –1225 Christmas Tree Lane, by Debbie Macomber
From the boardroom windows, high atop the Pye Pinnacle, you could see almost nothing for a very long way. -Shock Wave, by John Sanford
We had been wandering for so long I forgot what it was like to live within walls or sleep through the night. -The Dovekeepers: A Novel, by Alice Hoffman
Some people are harder to kill than others. -Kill me If you Can, by James Patterson
Reading other author’s first lines can help with your own creativity, but personally I think that the first line should reflect the book’s content or story line or at least introduce a thought-provoking concept that will be discussed within the book. After all, if the reader is not pulled in right from the start, why would they ever turn the page and continue reading?
What do you think? How do you as an author decide what to open your masterpiece with?
by Lorena Angell