“I hold them gently and whisper a soft apology before I slit their throats.”
When I put that on my facebook page, one follow-up response said that it would make a great first line to a murder mystery. In reality, my comment wasn’t that exciting, I was actually talking about our roosters and it described the routine I perform before we harvest them. With background knowledge, the line turns from being macabre to well, one that is sort of sad. It loses all of its power.
But the fact is, it would have made a GREAT first line to a book because without that background knowledge, it allows one’s imagination to create all kinds of scenarios (of which harvesting a rooster probably doesn’t even make it into the top ten.)
It got me thinking about how incredibly important that first line of a book is.
In my role as a reporter, I am trained to put who, what, when, where, and how right up front. Just the facts mam. People are in a hurry and they want to know what it’s all about. Now.
More Granite Staters continued to find jobs last month, according to the most recent figures released by the state on Monday.
No surprises here, the reader knows exactly what to expect. Trouble is, if you start a book off that way, people will close the cover sooner than you can say – Edward R Murrow award. There’s no magic, no suspense, no slitting of the throat, and certainly no reason to make anyone turn the page.
When I’m writing features, I’m given a little more leeway. I’m allowed to start with a lede or a hook, something that will pique my audience’s interest, as long as I don’t break the rule that all the missing information bits will come later (but not too much later) in the story.
Enjoy having things that go bump in the night with your dinner? If so, then you might want to check out the Common Man Restaurant in Merrimack long known for its stories of haunted and unexplainable happenings.
Although there is still information in that beginning (the understanding is that you will read something about ghosts and a restaurant) the article hints at a longer story that will be told. Feature articles are the bridge between reported articles and full fledged book stories.
When you begin writing a book, you have the absolute freedom to not supply any background information. Instead, you need to dramatically hook your reader in whatever way you can in order to make them turn that all important first page. Do this by using all your tools – you can be vague, you can shock, heck, you can even give human emotions to the brush that is sitting on the counter. You just need to catch someone’s eye.
That is the only goal of a story’s hook. It is not to introduce a character, or to plant a clue to the murder, its sole reason, like the tantrum of a 3 year old in the grocery store is simply to get someone’s attention. It is only after the hook is introduced that you can then, sentence by sentence, begin to let your story unfold.
Most people begin their memoirs with a life changing event, a traffic accident, a debilitating disease, or an obstacle that needed to be overcome. Mine begins with a warning from my husband before I left the house that Saturday morning.
“Don’t bring home any more chickens.”
With the beginning of a book, unlike an article, there is no promise that you’ll know everything right away (indeed the best books are the ones where on the final page, you end up smacking yourself on the forehead and saying “NOW, it all makes sense!”) Memorable books begin with a vague promise that although you might not understand everything immediately, if you stick with the author, eventually all will be made clear.
You just need to give your readers enough reason at the beginning to make them stay until the end.
So go ahead, give it a shot, go all out and create your best first opening sentence for a story in the comments below and let’s just see how many would be able to hook us into the literary nets of your story with just that one line.
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).
“This is my favorite book in the world, though I have never read it.”