Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seduce Your Reader With Your First Line by Diana Flegal

Writers who ignore the first line create fiction that lacks literary seduction.
                               Aaron Gansky Firsts in Fiction

Have you ever grabbed a book off the shelf in a bookstore, opened it and read the first line and determined to buy it? Or at the least, pull up a chair and read a little more while sipping your latte' ? (Gosh, I miss my local Borders Bookstore). 

Like the mermaids siren song, we are seduced and can not escape, even though we might wish to. We are hooked and at the mercy of the author, compelled to read on. That is a wonderful experience, is it not?

Fiction and Nonfiction can capture us this way.

Erwin Raphael McManus captured me with a fictional opening to his nonfiction Christian Living title, Seizing Your Divine Moment.  He wrote: Rumblings are more felt than heard and certainly never seen. They come to you through the soles of your feet into the depths of your soul. Only then do they open the eyes of your heart. They speak of a shift that is about to take place.

Margaret Becker, in her title, Coming Up For Air, hooked me with her first paragraph. I will let you read it yourself. Amazon says this about it: Artist Margaret Becker shares her personal story of exhaustion, loneliness, faith, and success in a lighthearted yet thought-provoking story. Through her experiences women will learn how to redefine, reclaim, and rejuvenate their lives.

Yes, both times the authors grabbed me where I was at. I was feeling tremors beneath my feet and knew I was in for a shift. And I certainly needed to get away as Margaret spoke of. But if they hadn't wrote what they said in a compelling and  fine way, I would have moved on.

A reader will not continue reading if you do not capture or 'hook' them quickly. They simply place your book back on the shelf and pull out another. With limited budgets, there are so many options and so little time.

When an agent or editor read your sample chapters in a proposal, we sometimes know by the first line and often by the first page, whether we are going to read on or reply with a kind rejection. Sometimes out of duty, having met the author at a conference face to face, we will read the full three chapters contained in the proposal. And if we catch a glimmer of something special, having waded on, we might respond with a suggestion for a rewrite and request for a resubmit. But all too often we know by the first pages end,it just doesn't measure up.
While refreshing my First Pages workshop for an upcoming conference, I turned to Aaron Gansky's book mentioned above.This small book is power packed with great writing advice. The subtitle of the book is: First Line Hooks, Hints and Help. And it is just that.

Aaron lists four ways you can begin your story with the first line.
Through character, conflict, voice and setting.

Eddie Jones, in his book, The Curse of Captain LaFoote, begins; "I'd just ordered a large pizza the evening our apartment building burned down." I was curious enough to read on.

Which style of beginning would you say Eddie used?

What are a few of your favorite first lines? Share them here with us, but don't forget to credit the author.

And be sure to check out Aaron's book.

Happy Wednesday!


Linda Glaz said...

The prairie was a cold mistress. But he loved her, nonetheless, loved the freedom to come and go that she afforded him with no questions asked.

Happy Wednesday, Diana. I love this thought. We always tell folks how important the first page is, but you're right, it's the first line, isn't it?

Diana said...

That is a great first line Linda. Who can we credit it to?

Linda Glaz said...

Well, here's what happened. A couple weeks ago I started a new WIP and I thought I had a good line til I read your post. Went back and re-worked this, and now I like it better. Thanks, Diana. I "know" how important a first line is, but I get lazy and your post really woke me up again. Thank you thank you!!!

Diana said...

I like it, a lot!

Jennifer Major said...

Still surrounded by the morning silence, he raised his hand and caught a few of the sunrays that peeked through the door frame and dared lay beams of light on his sleeping wife.


David Stearman said...

This issue is close to my heart. I really labor over my first lines, since I see a story's first line as a form of advertising. In songwriting we call this a "hook," the concept being that if you can hook the listener, or reader, with this line, they'll listen, or read, on.
Personally, I like it when a first line involves action. "The morning exploded in a deafening roar." (You know that one, Diana ;-) But one of my all-time faves is "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit," mainly because when I first read that book in the '70s, none of us knew what a Hobbit might be, but the cutesy name sure made us want to find out.

Diana said...

Jennifer, that is a beautiful example of using voice to open your novel. I would read on. And David, action is a great way to peek a readers interest and curiosity- what is producing this roar?

Jennifer Major said...

Thank you.

David Stearman said...

What's causing the roar? Well, what's a Hobbit? That's the point. The reader wants to to lean into the next line to find out :-)

David Stearman said...

This is a great blog post, Diana. Seems like such an important issue.

~sharyn said...

The first lines that stand out to me most come from Jane Austen. Her classic first sentence from Pride & Prejudice, of course, & I also like Northanger Abbey's: "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine."

But I might as well share my first line, since I'm here & could get feedback: "I am more single today than I have ever been."

Linda Glaz said...

Sharyn, I def like that opening line. Sure makes we want to know more about the book.

Diana said...

I like it too Sharyn. :-) I am intrigued.

Cindy Sproles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeanette Levellie said...

Great post, Diana! One of my favorite first lines is, "On Tuesday afternoon at five thirty, an elderly lady strode into Corin's antiques store as if she owned it and said, "The next two months of your life will be either heaven or hell." --James Rubiart, The Chair

Matt Hamel said...

You've tempted me to geek out and make use of my (expensive) education, so I'll go a little in that direction.

Two from Cormac McCarthy, both draw you in, but in different ways:

"The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door"- All the Pretty Horses

"I sent one boy to the gas chamber at Huntsville."- No Country for Old Men

E.B. White: "I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting."- Death of a Pig

Cindy Sproles said...

The first line makes or breaks the story...or I think it does. "Married at 13, a mother by 14, widowed and childless by 15." These kind of lines make the reader ask, "What on earth is going on?" And when those types of questions come out then a writer has nailed their audience to the story.

A writer friend once told me, "the first paragraph should make me ask, What's in this for me and why should I care?" Good advice.

Great post Diana.

Anonymous said...

I started my short story "Mercy?" with this: "Today, Todd would face his wife's killer." I'm not sure how it compares with the greats, but I did work to make this a hook for the story.

Linda Glaz said...

I love the line, just be careful, if you're writing omniscient, you're okay, but if you're writing from todd's pov, would he know that? Or is he already planning in his head to meet the killer? I know it hooked me!

Linda Glaz said...

Diana, this post SOOO changed how I look at all lead it sentences, for chapters, for paragraphs, etc. Thank you for the wonderful post!
(I'm re-editing my wip)

Anonymous said...

Not an omniscient pov; he knows who the killer is and plans to visit...

You can read here (if links are allowed):

Linda Glaz said...

That makes sense, then. I do like that opening.

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Anonymous said...

Just letting you know that I linked to this post in my latest blog update (

I don't have access to my books at the moment to post my favorite opening line or else I would play along.