First Sentence-Who Cares?!

For the longest time we’ve all heard that the first sentence of a book is what “hooks” readers and gets them to buy it.  Yes, there are lots of wonderful examples of famous first lines that make you want to read more:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

But really, if you can’t get a reader to pick up the book in the first place, who cares how good the first line is?  The most important thing to any book is a great cover.  For example:

This is a book I would never pick up.  Granted, this is  a fictional book cover made to be particularly boring, but still, the liklihood of it becoming a blockbuster is pretty much nil (Sorry fictional Arthur Abram).
The second most important thing to any book is the Title.  If the title isn’t moderately intriguing, you might as well not have written a book, because no one is going to pick it up, let alone buy it.  For example:
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Oh. My. God. 75 exciting vegetables!!! Why dont I already own 3 copies of this book?!  Genetic algorithms–ooo! I need to buy this for all my friends!  You get the idea.
So after passing the cover and title test, what do people go for next?  Still not the first line of the story.  Nope.  Phase 3 is the dust jacket/back cover book synopsis.  THIS is where you want to wow the reader, because if this catches their attention, it will ultimately get them to purchase your book.
What not to do:

A clearing deep inside a forest, somewhere near Luton, England. The place looked perfect for a quiet camping night, or as a place for romance, but right now it was not. Who were those twelve strangers? A group of rowdies, six strong, on one side of the place and a group of regular teenagers, also six strong on the other. Tension was in the air. None of the people moved very much, they kept their distance. Words were exchanged, strong statements, but no real threats, no gestures. Then suddenly… A knife… Thrown by one of the rowdies, aimed at one of the teenagers. A straight hit, directly into the shoulder. A cry. The teenager drops to his knees. And the rowdie already has another knife ready.

The situation looked hopeless for the teenagers, they for sure would run away now. But hold on, three of them step forward, guarding the others. They will for sure not stand a chance.

The next knife comes flying, aimed at one of the defenders. He pulls up his arms, cries, but not in pain, the knife is not there yet…

Silence falls on the clearing. What was that? The knife had just stopped in mid air and dropped to the ground a second later. A mishap? An illusion? Or pure luck?

Another one of the rowdies charges towards the teenagers. She looks twice the size than any of them. But wait, something is wrong again. How did she end up on the ground? Tossed through the air, as if she was hit by a rocket. And now. The teenager pushing his friend out of harms way. Look at his speed. Thats not normal either.

What’s going on there? Who are those people? Is this trickery? Or is it magic?

I mean, WTF?  Aside from being poorly written… get me as far away from this book as possible!
So let’s review:
  1. A colorful, eye-catching cover that will draw me close enough to read the title
  2. An intriguing title that will convince me the book deserves a longer look
  3. A brief synopsis that will entice me to read what’s between the covers

Without these, it doesn’t matter how good your first sentence is, let alone the rest of your novel. So what is the point of the first sentence?  Loving the first sentence is basically an affirmation that you made right choice in purchasing the book and gives you permission to continue reading.

Your thoughts?

2 responses to “First Sentence-Who Cares?!

  1. Hey Coffee Chick! I just found you as the Houston ML and was reading your stuff. Very entertaining. . . Has anyone at Nano written an article/commentary/suggestive blurb on how to get the most out of your nano write in? I’ve never been to one, but now that I know there will be a couple in Friendswood, I am thinking of going. Shy me. . . at a write in. . . Sorry, I digress.
    Thoughts on the aforementioned subject? (I know the basics; show up and write, but having never been to one, I would like to know how they are “run.”
    thanks for any insight
    Mary 53

    • Hi Mary! I’m sure there have been a ton of articles about nano and how to make the most of the month. Sadly, most of the ones I am aware of are general pep talks and pro-nano musings. For the most part, write-ins are a chance to meet other writers in your area (it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of, commiserate when you’re behind, celebrate when things are going right, etc.) How they are run really depends on the person or people hosting them. Some people are more chatty and spend more time talking with occasional spurts of writing, while other are VERY focused on getting their word count (ie. “we will write for 45 minutes with no talking then take 15 min break for talking then repeat”). I would say most are in the former group, but EVERYONE is super friendly and nice. A LOT of writers are introverts (some of them extreme introverts) so going to a write-in is a personal challenge for them to get out and meet other writers. 🙂 If you would like to participate in a virtual write-in or word war we have which is like AOL instant messenger (if you’re familiar with that). Word wars are usually when everyone buckles down for a timed period (usually 10-15 min intervals) of pure writing then we compare how many word each person wrote at the end of the war to determine a “winner”. No real prize, just bragging rights til the next war. If there is someone who is particularly wordy, then you can compete against your previous # and try to up it for each war. I have never had anyone tell me that a write-in was not worth their time (either in meeting word count, or meeting other people) so I would definitely suggest going to at least one during november! Have fun! 😀

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