Hook Your Reader With Your First Line

They laid next to each other a thousand miles apart. Every night she went to bed nude, and woke up naked.

Before I buy a book, I read the first line. If you lose me there, I’m moving on. It’s not fair, but it’s the harsh reality. I love that Amazon now posts the first lines for some books. Very cool. I really love the potential opening above – just need a story to go with it. I’ve had these two lines floating around in my head for a couple of months now. Maybe you don’t love it, but I know immediately it’s a woman speaking. I know she’s in a relationship and she’s not happy, but hasn’t left either. There’s a lot of pain in these few short words. These two lines leave me asking questions. Bingo. In my opinion, this one has definite first line potential.

First lines should intrigue the reader to want to know more. I went to my own bookshelf and pulled out a few of my favourite first lines. They’re not all from bestsellers, but they’re all great first lines in my opinion.

“My life is wasted.”
Island Inferno by Chuck Holton

I actually bought this book because I loved the first one in the series. I mean, who doesn’t want to read the sequel to a book that managed to combine in one scene a rocket launcher and a first kiss? I like this first line, though it throws up a big red flag. It leaves me asking lots of questions, but the writer who writes a first line like this had better deliver with something pretty powerful pretty fast. If I find out the speaker is a teenaged drama queen, there had better be a whole lot more to the plot or I’m ditching it before I finish chapter one.

“Holly held the blue cotton sweater to her face and the familiar smell immediately struck her, an overwhelming grief knotting her stomach and pulling at her heart.”
P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

I bought this book because I loved the movie, and everyone knows the book is always better. I love this first line. I remember pulling this book out of the box from amazon and turning to the first page. I read this line and knew I was going to need a blanket, a warm mug in my hands, and a box of tissue close by. Who hasn’t experienced this feeling? Evoking powerful emotions that a large number of people can relate to is a great way to draw a reader in. Just don’t be too obscure or vague. The power here is the specificity in the statement.

“Kate O’Malley had been in the dungeon since dawn.”
The Negotiator by Dee Henderson

How many questions just formed in your head as you read that line? Makes you want to know more, doesn’t it? A real dungeon or a figurative dungeon? Shocking first lines like this promise action and tell the reader up front the protagonist is a strong female character. I’m already curling up on the couch as I keep reading.

“He should never have taken that shortcut.”
Timeline by Michael Crichton

I like this line one: because I’ve actually said this to myself a thousand times. I’m directionally challenged. I immediately empathized with this poor soul. Two: because starting with a reflective statement like this always makes me lean forward and ask, “Why? What happened?” I’m hooked.

“She ran, tree limbs and brambles scratching, grabbing, tripping, and slapping her as if they were bony hands, reaching for her out of the darkness.”
The Oath by Frank Peretti

I love to read books that scare me. What great verbs – scratching, grabbing, tripping, slapping. What I love about this line is the way Peretti uses a description of setting to set tone, pace and hook the reader. That’s a very economical first line, don’t you think. I know that this is a book that will be a little creepy, and I think it’s important to prepare your readers up front. Who wants to pick up a thriller and find a romance? Or vice versa? This line promises action, suspense and maybe even some leave-the-lights-on-while-I-sleep moments. I’m hooked.

“Tattoos for each man she’d killed decorated her left shoulder and upper arm.”
Manuscript yet to be named by Marcy Kennedy and Lisa Wilson

I don’t think Marcy will mind me sharing this. This was the first line for the book Marcy and I are writing together. What do you think? When I pitched the idea for the story to Marcy and gave her a small bit to read, she narrowed in on this line immediately. This line promises action and a proud female protagonist. For me, this line is like rubber-necking. You’re not sure you would actually want to meet this person, but you’re pretty sure she’s got a great story to tell.

Are you brave enough to share some of your own first lines? Send us the first line from your favourite book. Why do you love it?

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

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