3 Ways to Hook your Reader with Your Very First Line

By Kirsti Call

My favorite mug features first lines of classic books.

Image

I am an invisible man.  

Marley was dead to begin with.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Each of these lines draws me in and makes me want to read more.  Richard Peck said: “You’re only as good as your opening line.” How do we keep our readers intrigued and wanting more?

Ask a question.  Asking a question gets readers thinking. Not a Box immediately asks: “Why are you sitting in a box?”  We want to turn the page to find out the answer. The Day the Babies Crawled Away questions: “Remember the day the babies crawled away?”  This piques our interest.  We want to know what happened on that fateful day.  Did the babies survive?  Where did they go?

Take People by Surprise. Mustache Baby declares: “When Baby Billy was born, his family noticed something odd: He had a mustache.”  A baby with a mustache?  We have to read on.  Leonardo the Terrible Monster tells us: “Leonardo was a terrible monster…he couldn’t scare anyone.”  A monster who isn’t scary?  I can’t wait to turn the page.

Use word play. Being Frank starts with: “Frank was always frank” and  Bridget’s Beret is similar: “Bridget was drawn to drawing.”  There’s nothing  better than the clever use of words to get people wanting more.

How can you use questions, surprise, wonder, opinion and word play to make the first sentences of your stories irresistible?

15 comments

  1. I love plays on language, but so often, it’s badly done and then it turns me off the whole book.
    But this helped me realize just how many of my favourite kids’ books start with the surprise beginning… like Stuart Little, who is born “not much bigger a mouse” (it’s revealed in the second sentence that he pretty much IS a mouse, born into a human family), or A Tale of Despereaux, whose own mother cries out that she’s disappointed (albeit not in the first line!).
    Actually, both of MY examples have convinced me… what you REALLY need to hook readers? A bold and compelling little mouse. 😉

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  2. Great suggestions, Kirsti. In the examples you offered, it’s easy to see that great opening lines are like stepping into a story already in progress. Thanks! (Love the mug!)

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  3. Kirsti, you give great suggestions at the high level (e.g. Take people by surprise) then follow up with wonderful examples. I feel inspired!

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  4. Kirsti, first, where’d you get the mug! It’s inspirational. And I read recently to make sure NOT to start with setting, weather, or unfamiliar vocabulary. Thanks for this post. The beginning line of your story certainly helps draw readers in.

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