One common piece of writing advice that puzzles me, is that a the first sentence of a novel should hook the reader.
I agree that any novel needs a strong opening, but I’m not convinced that the first sentence is the most important part, because:
- I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I put the book back because the first sentence just didn’t grab me.’
- I don’t remember the first sentence of any books I’ve read except Pride & Prejudice and that’s only because it gets quoted a lot.
- The first sentences of many books that are famous, or bestsellers, are really dull.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some wonderful first stentences out there, including from one of my favourite books “Farenheit 451” which begins “It was a pleasure to burn.”. (I only know this because I looked it up out of curiosity.)
It’s a line that intrigues you, but if the rest of the first paragraph / page had been very dull or not to my reading tastes then I wouldn’t have read the book.
Below are first sentences from a range of very famous books which ‘break the rule’:
- Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
- When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.
- Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.
- A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hill-side bank and runs deep and green.
- Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
- Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth.
- The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.
- “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
- There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
- The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.”
- The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.
A killer first sentence certainly isn’t going hurt you, but I think a strong opening is more than just one line. What do you think?
Oh and here’s the list of books to match those first lines…Ulysses/ To Kill a Mockingbird/ The Sun Also Rises/ Of Mice And Men/ Mrs Daloway/ The Maltese Falcon/ Lord of the Flies/ Little Women/ Jane Eyre/ In Cold Blood/ Heart of Darkness