The first line of fiction or nonfiction is important for a variety of reasons. But it must, above all, capture the reader's attention.
In Sol Stein's book, Stein on Writing, he explores this concept through a mixture of examples, his experiences as an editor, and his teaching methods.
Stein says, "It is astonishing how much the first words of a novel or story affect editors, reviewers, and readers. They are the trigger of curiosity, what writers have long called the "narrative hook." (Stein, pg. 17)
Let's take a closer look at the narrative hook.
Take a look at these sentences, examples that Stein himself uses to teach us the importance of the first line.
Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. (John O'Hara, The Instrument).
Are you immediately intrigued by this sentence? Do you want to know what's going to happen next? Then the author has done his job.
Let's look at the next one.
"What's the matter?" she asked. (James Baldwin, "Going to Meet the Man")
We're immediately drawn into a situation where there's conflict and tension.
And here's an opening line from one of Stein's students.
I wanted to strangle mother but I'd have to touch her to do it.
Wow. Look at the wealth of information in that one line. Are you intrigued? Do you want to know more? Again, another successful opening line.
Here are two questions that Stein suggests you ask yourself about your opening sentence:
"1) Does it convey an interesting personality or an action that we want to know more about?
2) Can you make your first sentence more intriguing by introducing something unusual, something shocking perhaps, or something that will surprise the reader?" (Stein, p. 20)
Look at the first sentence of your work. Does it grab your attention? If it doesn't, go back and think about revising it until it does.
Tomorrow, I'll dig deeper into the importance of the first line and the first paragraph and explain a few other ways to achieve an intriguing opening.
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