Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Most Important Line of Your Life.

The first line of a book is arguably the most important line.  Most readers today give a novelist fewer than seven minutes to spark their interest.  Most browsers in book stores and on the internet read the back cover /blurb of the book then read anywhere from the first page up to the first three pages.  They rarely read beyond the first three pages to see if the book captures them, so if you have ever had the argument that your book really starts to get interesting on page ten, you better take up a new line of thinking.  Pun intended!

In today’s impatient world, the reader, agent, or editor may not spare you beyond that first line – so make it count.  The reader wants to know immediately they will enjoy your book, and if the first sentence is dull or confusing what is that telling the reader?

 Sol Stein, author of STEIN ON WRITING suggest there are questions you can ask yourself about your own first sentence to see if it engages the reader’s curiosity.

1. Does it convey an interesting personality or an action that we want to know more about?

2. Can you make your first sentence more intriguing by introducing something unusual, something shocking perhaps, or something that will surprise the reader.
I think the most important thing Stein conveys that a writer should remember about first sentences is that, “Your entire story or novel may depend on that first sentence arresting the reader’s attention.  A terrific sentence on page two won’t help if the reader NEVER gets there.”

Obviously, I’m a believer in the importance of first sentences.  In fact, I blogged last year about first sentences that have stuck with me for many years from some of my favorite books.  Would the novels have been some of my favorites if they had not started off with a bang?  I venture to say no. 

I’ve asked members of my critique group to share some of their favorite first sentences so I could quickly analyze them here, and see if the sentences stand up to the Stein test.  The first sentence I’ll share is one of my all time favorites.

 1.  “There was a scream, and the loud roar of fire enveloping silken hangings, then a mounting crescendo of shouts of panic that spread and spread from one tent to another as the flames ran too, leaping from one silk standard to another, running up guy ropes and bursting through muslin doors.”  Author – Phillippa Gregory – The Constant Princess

What can I say about this opening sentence besides the fact that it is fabulously visual, conveys something shocking, unusual and an action that we want to know more about. Who started this fire, where is this fire, what is the deadly outcome of this spreading fire?

 2.  “I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”  Author Stephanie Myers – Twilight  *Sentence contributed by Jerrica Knight-Cantania

Talk about introducing an unusual and shocking situation!  How could you not read on? – And boy did we!  Millions of us. 

 3.  In every life there is a turning point.   Author - Julia Quinn – When He Was Wicked *Sentence contributed by Olivia Kelly

 Every person has experienced a turning point, therefore they can relate to how momentous it can be.  This relation makes people want to read on to see what this characters turning point is.

 4.  “The day I died started out bad and got worse in a hurry.” Author – Mary Janice Davidson – Unwed and Undead * Sentence contributed by Louisa Cornell

This sentence is funny and intriguing, a bonus!  The reader has to read on to see how someone who is dead can think it could get any worse.  The sentence introduces a shocking situation.

 5.  "Scarlet O'hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."  Author – Margaret Mitchell - Gone with the Wind  * Sentence contributed by Lauren Smith

Now this is an unusual situation and person being introduced.  The reader wants to know what’s so special about Scarlet’s charm that has men overlooking her beauty.

 6.  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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Author – Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities * Sentence contributed by Marie Higgins.

This is an oldie but goodie.  This sentence introduces a sweeping feeling of change and lets the reader know right from the start there is major upheaval going on.  Humans thrive on problems, especially other peoples problems.  Of course we will read on to see how the hope and despair, heaven and hell, and darkness and light play out.

For the last sentence I'm going to contribute one of my own.  You tell me, does it stand up to Stein's test and why or why not.

"The thick crowd gathered in the ballroom made it impossible for Lady Gillian Rutherford to find the man she intended to seduce into marriage."

This sentence if from my book BARGAINING WITH A RAKE, which will be available in late October for you to buy!

 I wish I had time to share all the wonderful sentences that my friend’s shared with me, but that would take up to much space, and I’m only allowed so much! 

If  you love SHERILYN KENYON or DIANNA LOVE, (or a ton of other writers) be sure to check out: http://www.southernmagic.org/luncheon.html November 3, 2012 at Harbert Center downtown Birmingham. Parking is FREE. If you attend, we will be giving away books, swag and opportunities to get more!

One lucky commenter today will win a $25.00 Amazon gift card!  I will draw your names and pick a winner.  Please leave your name and e-mail with your comment, so I can contact you!  The winner will be announced here and on my website which is juliejohnstoneauthor.com!

Don't forget every commenter is register for a chance to win a Kindle at the end of our blog blitz!


Ingrid Seymour said...

Great opening sentence and I love your title too. I imagine Lady Rutherford is a very determined woman who wastes no time!

Congrats on the new release!

Suzie Grant said...

Great first line, Julie! I can't wait for the release of your book! Love the first lines the ladies chose. Great choices. Grats on the coming release!

Julie Johnstone said...


She is! I hope everyone loves her as much as I do!

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks for stopping by to see me! I hope you enjoy the book!

Naima Simone said...

Hi Julie!
LOL! I love your opening sentence! Seduce...seduce...seduce... That just stays with me! Hee-hee! You're so right. First lines are important, and I agonize over mine! If a first line makes me laugh or go, what? What? then I'm probably hooked. Of course, I'm the kill-joy that goes to the end of the book to make sureit finishes how I want...yeah, yeah. Stone me later! LOL!!

Julie Johnstone said...

I'm so glad you love my first line! I did agonize over it! And I habe been known to flip to the back of a book just to make sure it ends like I want!

Robin Delany said...

I love how a great opening line can just grab you instantly. I did a whole series of blogs where I listed some of my favorite opening lines. Great choices.
Robin Delany

Lisa J said...

Definitely a winning opening sentence. I would read on.

Aileen Fish said...

Love your opening line. It tells us exactly what to expect.

Amanda K. said...

Love when the first sentence in a novel is also the last sentence in a novel.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
--Stephen King


CrystalGB said...

Great sentence. Makes me want to read your book. :)
Thanks for the giveaway.

Alison said...

Love a great opening sentence. Yours is great...makes me want to read it :)

Na said...

Strong first lines definitely keep me reading. I like yours! It tells a lot. Right away I know a Lady is involved in a public situation and she's unconventional because she has seuction in mind! That takes a gutsy woman who knows what she wants to pull it off. Which sounds like the kind of heroine that appeals to me.

Samantha Grace said...

I love first lines too, and yours is great. Just for fun, I grabbed a stack of books and read the first line. Here are some intriguing ones I found.

Lily Rutherford had never contemplated murder before, though she was warming to the idea. (A Certain Wolfish Charm by Lydia Dare)

"I didn't mean to marry both of them." (Duchess by Night by Eloisa James)

Anthony Bridgerton had always known he would die young. (The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn)

She entered the realm of lost souls in a single horse gig with her footman and maid. (My Wicked Marquess by Galen Foley)

The body in the road was the absolute cap to the day. (Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt)

These all make me want to read more! :)

Walt Mussell said...

There are a number of authors I follow that seem to have great opening lines, but two I enjoy the most are Stephanie Bond and Mary Connealy.

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks, Robin!
I'd love to read that blog. Send me the link!

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks, Lisa! And thanks for stopping by!

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks, Aileen.
I hope it tells what to expect and makes you intrigued!

Julie Johnstone said...

I love Stephen King. He is brilliant!

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks for commenting,and I hope you do read my book when it comes out!

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks, Allison! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks for stopping by! Gillian, my heroine, is gutsy and goes after what she wants in order to protect her sister!

Julie Johnstone said...

Those are great first lines! Thanks for sharing and for stopping by!

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks for stopping by! I'll have to check out the authors you suggested.

Jane said...

One of my favorite first lines is "It was a pleasure to burn" from Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." It definitely pulled me into the story right away.

janie1215 AT excite DOT com

Jennifer Brooks said...

Loved your post... very interesting and totally making me want to look back at first lines of my favorite books. Your first line immediately painted a picture of Lady Rutherford and told the reader she was a determined woman with a story you want to read more about.

Julie Johnstone said...

That is a great line! Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad my first line caught your attention and made you want to read more!

Shadow said...

I love the title! :) You have my interest peaked with it alone! And great first line! I love when the opening paragraph grabs my attention and demands me to keep reading. You have that! :) Thanks for sharing!

Jodi said...

Hmm, that first line sounds familiar!! Loved it and Gillian's story (or what I was given to read so far!!! Love the new cover as well.
You are so right on the opening line/paragraphs, this line is another one that pulled me in from the beginning and made me laugh " It wasn't ever day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of the road, not even in Dean Robillard's larger than life world...." from Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Cris said...

I like it when an opening sentence grabs my attention and compels me to finish the book ASAP... but I'm also one of those people who refuses to put a book down (TWILIGHT being the one notable exception-- I was almost at the end, but I just couldn't take it anymore!), so I will almost definitely keep reading even if the opening is ho-hum. And there have definitely been books I was lukewarm about at the beginning, and then really got to enjoy. Judith McNaught's historicals and George R.R. Martin's A GAME OF THRONES come to mind.

But that's a legend opening sentence! :)


bn100 said...

Nice opening sentence. Makes me wonder who she's looking for.


Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks for stopping by. Glad I got your attention!

Julie Johnstone said...

I love that Susan Elizabeth Phillips line!

Julie Johnstone said...

Judith McNaught is one of my favoritie writers. Which story were you lukewarm about the beginning?

Julie Johnstone said...

Thanks for commenting! I'm glad everyone was intrigued!

Bama said...

oh yes! The first few pages/lines are a must!

Stephanie Queen said...

I'm addicted to first lines! These were fantastic examples--I'd forgotten about the Scarlet O'Hara line, but I remember now how that description intrigued me and stayed with me.
Thanks for sharing!

Julie Johnstone said...

Bama and Stephanie,
Thanks to both of you for stopping by.

Everyone make sure to get their e-mails in, so I can draw the winner.

Cari Hislop said...

I recently devoured the memoirs of Regency courtesan, Harriette Wilson.
The first sentence punched me in the eye...
"I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven."

The second sentence is even better!

"Whether it was love, or the severity of my father, the depravity of my own heart, or the winning arts of the noble Lord, which induced me to leave my paternal roof and place myself under his protection, does not now much signify: or if it does, I am not in the humor to gratify curiosity in this matter."

I tried to go to bed, but I had to get up to keep reading!


RedPeril said...

I do love a good opening line. I'm not much good at coming up with them, sadly, but I know a good one when I read it.

Everyone's listed such great ones . . . I think I'll path the path slightly less famous and just go recent:

Mikhail Petrov was in no mood to kill anyone today, but he might not have a choice.
--(Incandescent, by: M. V. Freeman)

Royce McArthur swore as another glass of champagne went flying by his face.
--(An Unlikely Alliance, by: Rachel Van Dyken)

~Angela Blount

Bama said...


miabama at gmail dot com