You’re standing in front of a shelve of deliciously tempting books inside Barnes and Noble or Books a Million…or even the library. The smell of imagination cooking between fresh print pricks your curiosity and you scan the rows looking for a title or cover to push you from temptation to commitment. Finally, something snags your attention and you draw the book from the shelf, the promise of a tantalizing visit to otherworlds tingling through your body. (okay, maybe I’m the only one who gets this feeling, but I also write fantasy so it works for me.
You slide your hand across the silken cover dancing with brilliant colors and a magical picture, finally flipping to the first page.
Once upon a time….
It was a dark and stormy night…
It is a truth universally acknolwedged….
Either the book grips you in the first paragraph and delivers on its’ promises from the back cover, or you realize…this book is not for you.
So what makes a gripping first line…a first paragraph even?
Part of it has to do with personal preference, I know, but first lines have a tendency to draw us in, catch us, and then hook us like a fish in the water.
With this thought in mind, I’ve listed a few ‘first lines’ in books (old and new) as an example. See what you think.
“Scarlet O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm, as the Tarleton twins were.” – Gone With the Wind
“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.” – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
“A gentle breeze from the north-east after a night of rain, and the washed sky over Malta had a particular quality in its light that sharpened the lines of the noble buildings, bringing out all the virtue of the stone; the air too was a delight to breathe, and the city of Valletta was as cheerful as though it were fortunate in love or as though it had suddenly heard good news.” – Treason’s Harbor by Patrick O’Brian
“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
“A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing among the big trees, and they never saw that little house again.” Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalss Wilder
“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” Holes by Louis Sachar
Now for some Christian Fiction examples How do they compete?
“Oh, to be a calculating woman!” Julie Lessman’s A Passion Denied
“Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.” Stand-In Groom by Kaye Dacus
“The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.” The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs
“Breathe not a word of my visit, Jean. not to a soul.” Thorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs
“Bran!” The shout rattled through the stone-flagged yard. “Bran! Get your sorry tail out here! We’re leaving!” Hood by Stephen Lawhead
“Dragon riding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Ashley grumbled. Enoch’s Ghost by Bryan Davis.
“They were coming. They were coming! Christophe shoves his little sister, twelve-year old Emile, through a hidden door in the wall, quickly following her.” Love’s First Light by Jamie Carie
Now, interestingly enough, these examples have something in common: They are out to get your attention BUT they use different means to get it.
- Some draw in the reader with ACTION. You enter the story in motion and are swept into the pages.
- Some use INTRIGUE…something’s ‘not quite right’, so your curiousity is peaked.
- Some use HUMOR and brings you in with a smile.
- Others use the UNEXPECTED – something is stated (kind of like intrigue) which is out of the ordinary so to keep from teetering on the brink of confusion, the reader must read on.
-Finally some capture you with WORDS, magically descriptive, palpable words which ensnare the senses.
Any way you choose to write it, SOMETHING has to happen in that first paragraph which captures the readers attention to keep them reading…wanting more, inescapably attracted…
and then -
You’ve caught yourself a reader.