Musings on the importance of the first line

A lot of people talk about having a hook, or if we are going for a fishing metaphor lure, that catches the reader’s attention long enough to hook them and draw them in… but there’s a lot more to it than that.

The first line in any story tends to set the tone.  It clues the reader in to whatever you point out and, hopefully, gives them something to work on.   As a writer– it’s what draws me into the scene to write it, and as a reader, hopefully it makes me want to read it.

When I read a story, no matter how long it is, I want it to be worth my time.  The fact that the writer tried to draw me in is a big help, but there has to be a lot more backing it up.

The longer the story, the longer you have to make a first impression but you still have to hook me.

I’ll read at least the first few paragraphs of a longer story and if it catches my attention I’ll continue, if not: I move on.  It’s not something I consciously do… I just have a short attention span these days and if you aren’t going to put something pretty and sparkly in the window… I’m not coming into your shop.

Like anything in life, there are exceptions.

When someone is talking about how wonderful a book is, or how it’s made the top seller list… I’m more inclined to give it more time, but no matter how good the sales are on a book,  no matter how good the reviews were: if I don’t care about the story– I’m putting it back down.

If you have a character driven story, you have to have characters I care about.  If you have an action story then … there better be action in that first bit of reading– or something that hints at the action that’s about to start.  I want my action to be a roller coaster… and not one of the little ones either.  I want that mile high drop where your heart has been permanently relocated closer to your throat… and I don’t want it to hang up on that last rise as the mechanics shut it down to review the ride so far… or worse… make out and hold us there until they finish.  I want just enough time to catch my breath before it picks up again, and if you can make me care about the characters too?  That’s icing on the cake.

As a reader I demand these things, and so… as I writer I try and supply them.  Sure, there’s always that couple in the front seat making out on the roller coaster– but they haven’t stopped it from moving.

Even after the ride is over… don’t leave me with threads dangling.  PLEASE!  Yes, you got me to read the story and I may have loved it but I also like resolution…

I need resolution

If you don’t resolve the major issues… my mind just locks on them and I forget how much I enjoyed the story because… it didn’t actually end for me, it just stopped.

Yes, by all means, leave the reader wanting more, but do not leave them sitting there wondering what happened.  What happened to that mechanic who warned us about the bumpy ride?  What happened to that bolt we saw coming lose?  What happened to that nice couple in the car behind us that weren’t there when the ride pulled back into the station?

Don’t tell me “Someone must have betrayed us” and leave it there.  If someone betrayed me… you better believe I’d come looking for them… your characters better too.  It’s fine to leave things open for a sequel… but tell me that there will be a sequel, tell me you are going after that person who betrayed you and you aren’t going to just sit there and say “Oh well… we survived and all’s well that ends well.”

All is not well.

People aren’t like that… characters worth caring about aren’t like that.  I know life never ties itself up in a pretty little bow, so at least acknowledge that it bothers the characters and they haven’t forgotten these little details- it will make them more real and I’ll be more interested in reading more about them– that will actually hook me for the next story.

The hook will get your story read if its short.  The hook will draw the person in, but unless you’re writing a pop-song– the hook isn’t what’s important in the end.

Teach a writer to lure a reader in and they’ll sell a book.  Teach a writer how to hook the reader, leave them gasping for breath (in a good way) and wanting more and they’ll have an audience.

So… yeah, the first line is important… and then the second line is the most important line… then the third… and the one after that… and that whole area around the middle… oh yeah… and the ending… it needs a good ending.

Then you’ll have something.  (until the next one)

My 2 cents.

April 28, 2014

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