What does it take for a reader to pick up your book? We’ve talked about covers, titles and your back of book description. Now we come to our last article – the first line.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – 1984
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. – A Wizard of Earthsea
There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife. – The Graveyard Book
It was a pleasure to burn. – Fahrenheit 451
It’s not hard to see why these are excellent first lines. They’re enticing. They make you ask questions. They create tension. It might be easier to talk about what doesn’t work for your first line.
If you open with where the character was born, how old they are, how many siblings they have, it’s not exactly going to keep your reader turning pages. Better to open with why this story is being told now. What’s going on that affects your character is a good or bad way?
If you are describing mountains, rivers, fields without any emotional attachment your reader is not going to be invested. Instead show the reader why the world is important to the characters. The mountains are too high for your character to climb. The river has run dry. The fields have been burnt.
Too Many Specifics
Fantasy can be a challenging genre since you will have to introduce your readers to a brand new world and all the creatures in it. If you start off with too many specifics, your reader may feel confused or lost. Ease them into your world. Make them feel at home.
Description without Action
Yes, yes, the old “show, don’t tell.” But it’s true. And describing what someone is doing (even if they are wielding a sword) is not action. Action is conflict. Don’t tell us what they’re doing. Tell us why they’re doing it.
For more on opening lines, check out this Atlantic article featuring Stephen King.
Next up – I visit the Toronto’s The Word on the Street book and magazine festival! Can’t wait!