Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How to Hook Your Readers with Your Opening Line // A Guest Post by Madison Guy

A Tuesday post! Today I'm giving you all a break from my self-publication series and letting my friend Madison take over the blog. She's got some amazing content here for you. You may remember her from her previous guest posts introducing her blog Miss Maddy Cakes and tips on character creation. She's recently celebrated her first blogging anniversary and has moved sites. Her stunning blog is now A Little Southern Grace. Make sure you not only click that link and drool over it, but also give her a follow! Enjoy the post. I'll see you Saturday :)

I'll get straight to the point: writing the first chapter of your story is extremely hard.  A bundle of doubts and questions come to your mind before you even begin typing.  What is the perfect first impression to give your readers? How should I introduce my characters?  How do I keep it interesting when nothing has happened yet?

Sometimes the hesitation comes from realizing you don't know where the rest of the book is going.
But writing a killer first line is so important.   The first line - or the first few lines, we'll make an exception - is the most important aspect of your book.  It could be the difference in someone buying a book at a bookstore or not.   It could be the reason someone decides to check out a book at the library.
That's a lot of pressure!  WAY too much when you're staring at a blank page.  But don't worry.  Here are a few tips for those of us who get intimidated (cheers to you if you don't!):

1.  Provoke questions.

This one is a biggie.  If there are no questions, your reader won't have any interest following your story.  You want to leave unanswered questions and cliffhangers;  who here has binge-watched a not-so-great show just because we want to know what happens to that one character? *raises both hands*
So make your readers ask questions.
Let's take this first line from a well-loved book:
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
What's the first thing that comes to your head?  For me, who would name child this and why did he deserve it?   It makes you want to find out what Eustace did in order to deserve a name like his.

2. Add a little pizzazz (aka a hook).

Make your readers interested right off the bat.   Make them want to read the rest of the book.
This could branch off number 1, but it is slightly different.  While you want the reader to ask questions, you want them to ask the right questions.  Don't make them wonder why your character wants a pb and j sandwich for breakfast, make them wonder something important and plot-related.
Make it interesting and give us a snapshot of your story all in one sentence.  For example:
"It was a pleasure to burn."
- Fahrenheit 451
This author did a fantastic job giving a punch and making you want to read more.  First of all, who thinks it is a pleasure to burn?  Second, it gives the readers a picture of what makes this story interesting.

3.  Introductions.

Next, introduce your readers to what kind of a world your character lives in.  You can be upfront and tell them where the story takes place or you can hint at what makes your world different.  Are we in modern-day England or are we in a futuristic tavern with crazy aliens?
Here's an example:
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
- 1984
This quote from 1984 shows us how the world is different from our modern-day world - clocks striking thirteen?  Wouldn't you want to keep reading?

4. Give your character a voice.

This is especially fun when you're writing in first person.  Your readers want to know what kind of character they will be following, so give them a distinct voice.
For example, take The Book Thief:
"First the colors.  Then the humans.  That's how I usually see things.  Or at least, how I try to. HERE IS A SMALL FACT: you are going to die."
-  The Book Thief
Okay, yes, this isn't ONE line.  But it's still a brilliant example because it gives you an idea of who the narrator is.  He calls people "humans."  He's blunt.  It gives the readers a glimpse at what your narrator is like and how the rest of the story is going to go.
Here's another one:
"Sometimes it seems like all I ever do is lie."
- The Princess Diaries
This quote tells the readers something about the character before we even know her name.  She lies, and sounds a little tired of lying.  Why does she feel like she has to lie? Who is she? Bam, instant hook!

You might be thinking, how the heck am I supposed to fit all this in ONE SENTENCE?!  Honestly, sometimes you won't.    Sometimes it will take a few sentences to give the reader that punch (The Book Thief example).  So I could call this post: "How to Hook Your Readers With Your First Page," but it is so much more powerful to find one line that accurately represents your story.  Try to find a way to squeeze the idea behind your story into a few words that'll lead your readers into the rest of your plot.
"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish."
- The Old Man and the Sea
In this first line, the author tells us who the character is (an old man), where he lives (off the Gulf Stream), what the problem is (not catching a fish), and makes us ask questions (why does he fish alone?).
It's not the most "pizzazz-y," but it's one of the best classic first lines that I've read.
And don't worry, the amazing opening doesn't always come to you in the first draft! I've gone through multiple first lines in my novels before landing on ones I love. And, even then, it will probably change many more times...  so next time you're trying to find that perfect opening line, you can use this handy little cheat sheet!

How does your story start?  Does it draw your readers in?

*pops back in* Here's her blog again: A Little Southern Grace


  1. Oh, this is /so/ helpful. A lot more helpful than all the "begin with action!" things I see everywhere.

    I'm actually about to start a book (partly why this was so helpful), so I don't have it's opening sentence. I've been thinking about, maybe, doing something like "It was two in the morning when I first got the news: Nina's dad was dead," but that's just the first idea I've had.

    1. Currently, I think my first sentence is, "My name is a lie." But that's not actually foreshadowing, it's just my MC being a HUGE drama queen. (Seriously, she's way dramatic, alllll the time. It's very annoying.) But yeah, awhile ago I thought it was clever, now I just think it's kinda silly. So it'll probably change many more times. (Also there's the small fact that the first chapter needs to be printed up and burned because I never need to lay eyes on it ever again.)

      But yes, first lines are SUPER important. It's what sets up the story and if it fails to do that, then what'll make us (readers) interested enough to keep reading?

    2. Yay, I'm glad it was helpful! I completely understand... one of the reasons for writing this topic was because I couldn't find any easy tips when I started my stories. Besides the vague 'action start' like you mentioned.

      Oo I love that first line!

    3. You have no idea how many times I've changed my first line so don't worry about it! Honestly, being as picky as I am, it takes several drafts before I even find a way to start the story after scrapping the first chapter a couple times :)

    4. Aw, thanks. It's actually a pretty horrible first line, but hey, it's a start, lol! Yeah, I get what you mean. I've never written a multi-draft novel before, so I'm not sure how long it'll take to find a good first line...

  2. This is a very helpful post, Madison! Thank you so much! At the moment, the first line of my WIP is "The Pentegreens had been busy."
    I think this inspires some questions, but I don't think it will end up remaining my first sentence - there will be a couple of chapters before this one instead. So I still don't have a killer first line :P
    The first line of my dystopia right now is "Her eyes opened."
    Yeah, I know. I need to work on them. All of them. But whatever.
    Thanks again!

    1. Thank you, Faith! That first line definitely triggers some questions - keep it up!

      Don't you love it when that happens? My first draft of my current WIP originally started at the end of the action, where my main character was older and giving his story to a curious reporter. But I decided to start in the beginning instead and had to scrap that chapter completely and write a new one. So my first line for that one is nonexistent right now too :)

  3. Very helpful post! Also, I loved all the examples - beautiful and well-deserved mentions. ^^

  4. This is so helpful! I do struggle with coming up with the perfect first sentence, and the examples you gave were great. Really helped in giving an idea of what we should strive for. :)

    1. Yay, I'm glad I was able to help :)

  5. You can be upfront and tell them where the story takes place or you can hint at what makes your world different. Are we in modern-day England or are we in a futuristic tavern with crazy aliens.

    visit the site


Comments are how I know you've been here! I try hard to reply to all the comments in a timely fashion, but regardless, know that if you leave a comment, I will read it and it will make me smile. :) Please no profanity or soliciting.