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About opening lines (1 Viewer)

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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Probably like most others here, I’ve read articles stressing the importance of the first line (or lines) of a novel. In a large sense, I agree, however, are they crucial? I’ve set many books aside after reading wonderful opening lines, only to have the rest of the chapter fall flat.

It’s my (probably controversial) opinion that the first sentence isn’t going to do much in terms of pulling readers in or driving them away. I believe readers have a longer attention span than the few nanoseconds of those that only watch television or movies. I’m looking to be drawn into the story over several paragraphs or pages, or even the first few chapters; the first sentence would have to be atrocious to drive me away.

Amazon allows readers to download a sample (which equates to 10% of the book), so if you’re looking for sales, you’d best be stellar for at least that much of your story.

I believe that every sentence in a book is important, although when writing I do pay more attention to the first pages and the beginning of every chapter in hopes of drawing the reader deeper into the story.

Opinions?
 

-xXx-

Financial Supporter
as a reader, considering an author (works longer than an anthology might include),
i will read the blurb.
i will read the first page.
i will read a random page, usually near midpoint.

but
i read books multiple times.
i study certain writers.
language is important to me.

short works, yeah, hook the first and last.
longer works, the same applies where my reference shelf is concerned,
but
writer's can develop over time.
how long does it take for me to reconsider a pass-on-that?
quite a while.

helpful?
;)
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Probably like most others here, I’ve read articles stressing the importance of the first line (or lines) of a novel. In a large sense, I agree, however, are they crucial? I’ve set many books aside after reading wonderful opening lines, only to have the rest of the chapter fall flat.

It’s my (probably controversial) opinion that the first sentence isn’t going to do much in terms of pulling readers in or driving them away. I believe readers have a longer attention span than the few nanoseconds of those that only watch television or movies. I’m looking to be drawn into the story over several paragraphs or pages, or even the first few chapters; the first sentence would have to be atrocious to drive me away.

Amazon allows readers to download a sample (which equates to 10% of the book), so if you’re looking for sales, you’d best be stellar for at least that much of your story.

I believe that every sentence in a book is important, although when writing I do pay more attention to the first pages and the beginning of every chapter in hopes of drawing the reader deeper into the story.

Opinions?
Most people get the first quarter of their books right. It's often the rest of a book that falls apart. That being the case, most readers will pickup a book and read pass the first few pages only to be let down after that point. IMO, this is why many readers only read books where they trust the author or trust the opinion of reviewers.
 
I do value good first lines, but I think the focus on 'hooking' readers in the first line leads to bad first lines. Example: "She only started getting nervous when she saw the gun." I absolutely hate those kind of first lines. Who is she? Why is the gun important (other than mere shock)? And why do I care? The (justly) much-maligned, "Hi, my name is ____, and I'm ___" opener is better than this, because then I at least have a chance to form a connection with the story. A 'hook' that tries too hard is like being dropped into a blank with a few vague, disjointed ideas.

Practically, I usually focus on hooking the reader with the first coherent idea, as opposed to the first line. Sometimes that takes a paragraph; sometimes, not even a sentence (G. K. Chesterton's "The human race, to which so many of my readers belong..." is a good example). Then you're not trying to stuff 'excitement' into one short sentence while leaving your readers out to dry.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
- Book-wise, probably about 200 million people have already read the line before I buy my copy. Filled with total confidence, I have paid ten pounds, it was written fifty years ago.

- Magazine stories...like a web-freebie from the New Yorker?...mmm..."Why are you crying at the window?" opined Garfield...

...'you prick, prick prick and a prick actually I am quite enjoying your story, I am sorry I called you a prick. What fascinating journeys through Europe again.'

- My great 6 month experience as a slush reader? I used to always give the writer a second and a third chance, feeling for the overall feeling I was feeling for toward their page 3. However the multitude 95% of the stories were flushed, plus the obvious clever ones written by geniuses [women] were always sent to the editor, and then only the journeymen remained, appealing somehow through a 6th sense, or the 5th sense, I can't remember which word it was, and even though his story was terrible, totally crap, I found myself reflected in his art, a very wonderful occasion... and I would send his story up, a treat for the editor aside the genius women. 'Sci-fi needs new Stanford Torus mining on Mars story!' I implored. Of course in tier 2 they were destroyed in flames and back to their farms.
 

K.S. Crooks

Senior Member
For me the blurb is most important. I've never stopped reading a book because of the first few lines, however I have NOT read a book because I didn't like the blurb. Once I think I'll like the book I give it around 60 pages to keep my interest. I think the key is to establish the story is headed in the direction the blurb set out.
 
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bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Probably like most others here, I’ve read articles stressing the importance of the first line (or lines) of a novel. In a large sense, I agree, however, are they crucial? I’ve set many books aside after reading wonderful opening lines, only to have the rest of the chapter fall flat.

It’s my (probably controversial) opinion that the first sentence isn’t going to do much in terms of pulling readers in or driving them away. I believe readers have a longer attention span than the few nanoseconds of those that only watch television or movies. I’m looking to be drawn into the story over several paragraphs or pages, or even the first few chapters; the first sentence would have to be atrocious to drive me away.

Amazon allows readers to download a sample (which equates to 10% of the book), so if you’re looking for sales, you’d best be stellar for at least that much of your story.

I believe that every sentence in a book is important, although when writing I do pay more attention to the first pages and the beginning of every chapter in hopes of drawing the reader deeper into the story.

Opinions?

A meh opening line and a decent novel will make me like a book. A brilliant opener and a decent novel will make me love it. A brilliant opener and a meh novel will make me feel cheated but I'll probably still end up reading a good whack of the thing.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
For me the blurb is most important. I've never stopped reading a book because of the first few lines, however I have NOT read a book. Once I think I'll like the book I give it around 60 pages to keep my interest. I think the key is to establish the story is headed in the direction the blurb set out.

Blurbs are the hardest thing for me to write.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
In shorter works, sometimes I just say what's going on.

The worst thing you could do IMO is make a stupid observation like "Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness."

I hate "quotable" lines to begin with. I think it's WAY too easy to write something that sounds profound but isn't. I almost never even remember the first line of a book or short story - even if I wrote it. I have more - but still not much - of a knack for endings, I think.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
John was depressed. Here are 100 words illustrating depression is common in our CW community, hew..

However, your example seemed okay, like gothic/19c/Poe...umm, or 21st century sea shanty?
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Don't be cheap! If you're good enough to write a great opening line you're good enough to give the reader that experience all through the book. Maybe not every sentence but I love when there are dazzlers all through.

Thinking of Terry Pratchett, one of the reasons so many love his writing is that practically every Discworld book is made up of 'first lines'. James Lee Burke, likewise, will start off chapters all through his novels with wonderful lines. His novel, Heartwood, had a line in a middle chapter of the book that was INCREDIBLY hooky, having to do with the fact that the MC knew that what he was about to do was a really bad idea and he intended to do it anyway...and we didn't know exactly what that was yet, only suspected.

Your opening is a promise. Fulfill it.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
My goal with opening lines is to draw the reader into the story, so I tend to start just before or in the middle of some action.
Let's see...
Past works:

Dark Side of Joy: the 12 yo MC riding in his parent's airplane surrounded by illegal drugs.
The Last Dragon: the MC is waiting to catch a ride to school - he'll get in an accident and die... briefly.
Departure: guards are chatting on the wall of a city, a bomb is about to go off.
Desperation: the MC is standing on a space elevator platform being lifted into orbit, enemies are in hot pursuit.
Damnation: the MC senses vibration, a huge solar flare is about to hit.
Deviation: (ok, maybe bad, but...) MC wakes from a nightmare that defines his past.
Destination: the MC is walking across the high plains of Colorado, a cougar is about to befriend him.

Next up:
Redemption: the MC is meditating in a jail cell, about to fight a duel.
Inception: (still tentative) the MC will be making breakfast for his cat, and will receive an invitation in the mail.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I think it's best to assume a good opening line > paragraph > page > chapter is a warranted goal. First sentence to get them to the next. Then hopefully they'll read the first paragraph (equally as important for me) and then on to the end of the page, where they'll (fingers crossed) turn it. If you can get them that far and give them a great first chapter, chances are they'll think it's worth their investment to read on. If not for the reader, then for the editor/publisher.

I see no merit in ignoring this.
 
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