Tips for Writing the First Line

What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone. – Joan Didion

The first sentence of a book sets the scene for everything that comes after it. The first sentence draws people in. The first sentence teases the reader with wanting to find out what happens next.

First sentences are necessary.

Without a first sentence there would be no book. No story. No anything.

The first sentence is a very important part of the story. Often the first sentence of a book will decide a person whether or not they are going to read a book.

As an author the first sentence can be extremely difficult because it is what sets the tone for the entire book.

It is the first sentence that draws the reader in and make them decide if they want to continue to read the book.

All of these things can make writing the first line incredibly difficult, that is why that is why I want to share some of the tips on writing the first line that I either heard from someone else or made up, not sure which for most of these because I have read so many books on writing that all the advice has just gotten mixed up in my head. So probably all of the tips that I am about to give you came from somewhere besides just me, I just can’t tell you where.

Don’t Start with Description

Description is necessary for a story, but if it goes on for more than a sentence or so people skimming it. Description is not particularly interesting for most people. It not going to hook them into wanting to read your story, so just try not to start with it, unless it works and then ignore this advice.

Always ignore writing advice when you can, but sometimes it is helpful. And not starting with description is one of those pieces of writing advice that is generally true.

Don’t Make It Overly Confusing

If you throw a bunch of characters at your reader really quickly your reader is not going to be able to absorb any of it. So, having something happening right away is good, but don’t try and make your reader remember half a million things on the first page alone because that is just going to make them give up and go read something else.

Give Your Reader a Question

Like if the clocks are striking thirteen your reader is going to be curious. If you can make your reader curious they are going to continue reading it.

Don’t Make It Too Long

Don’t start with a line that is so long that by the time that the reader has gotten to the middle of it they have forgotten the beginning. Having really long sentences tends to make things seem slower and more boring even if they really aren’t.

Throw Your Reader Into the Middle of Things

Don’t start at the beginning. Your reader doesn’t need to know the entire backstory of the protagonist or the antagonist. In real life we always meet people in the middle of someone’s story, so it makes sense to do that with fictional characters as well.

Don’t Start with Dialogue

I do actually remember where I heard this one, it was from a writing teacher of mine. After she told us this, I immediately started looking for books that start with dialogue, but all of the amazing first lines that I found did not start with dialogue.

I still feel like this is one of those first line rules that is just waiting to be broken in a masterful way.

Remember You Still Are Going to be Editing

Just because you have written a first line doesn’t mean that you can’t change it. It is not permanent until it is published, so you can always change it. You don’t have to have a perfect first line because really it is the imperfections that make a piece of art interesting rather than the perfections.

So, those are the tips on writing your first lines that I have for you today. Hopefully they are helpful.

But if they are not just remember that rules about writing are just waiting to be broken. And really there are no rules about writing, just traditions and often the most interesting works of fictions bring something unexpected and new into their writing.

If you have any other tips on writing the first line, I would love to hear them! Writing the first line is not easy and we need all the help that we can get.


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