Saturday, 7 January 2012

You had me at hello... does your first line grab?

 I have written about first lines before (in To Bang or Whisper), mainly as hymn of praise to Homer’s Iliad and its translators, because – if you didn’t know – Homer’s Iliad has the BEST FIRST LINE EVER.

Ooer, nice mullet
However, I was recently reading a fairly elderly copy of a Signet paperback called Rakes and Rogues(notable for the fineness of the mullet which graces the front cover – worth of a youthful George Clooney).  Rakes and Rogues contains five stories by authors romance superstars Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney and perhaps a little less well known (to me at least), Melinda McRae, Anita Mills and Maura Seger.

Two things struck me:

  1. I’m more drawn to stories which start with the hero’s POV;
  2. An exciting first line (or first three lines) makes all the difference as to whether I read on or not.

Moreover, the exciting first line was not a false dawn.  The stories I enjoyed the most were the ones with cracking first lines.   Now, I’m guessing this is because authors that can kick start a story with verve and élan are those who are most in control of their craft.  

But still, it’s a lesson to writers. When you finish your novel, go back and inspect those crucial first lines one more time.   Because whilst many readers might dive off the deep end, many will just dip their toes in the frigid water of your first page.... don’t let them run away yawning.

Now, without further ado and just for fun, see if you can match the author to their first line.   Which line speaks to you?  Which would have you reading on?

  1. "George Farron Chevening Atwell, the sixth Viscount Belmont, stood upon the top step of his house in Chelsea, frowning at the green-painted door before him."
  2.   "He was going to be hanged on Tuesday."
  3. "Without a doubt it was the most stupid thing he had ever done."
  4.   "Archer, what a nice surprise," the older woman exclaimed. 
  5. “The line was long until the rain began to pour, and then most who were there dispersed, grumbling that they’d be back when there was less danger of a soaking.”


Jayaly said...

It would be 2 and 3 for me, which I suspect proves your point.

Meg McNulty said...

Snap! And indeed those are the two stories by bestselling authors Mary Jo Putney and Mary Balogh - an expert hand at the wheel :-)

Jayaly said...

And what I love most about them is that they are technically passive sentences, but their effect is anything but passive.

It's all about how you use the tools at your disposal.

Meg McNulty said...

I think they show a certain confidence too. Sentence 1 seems to be desperate to give you all the information you might need upfront in a subtle info dump. Sentence 2 & 3 are confident in their own intrigue...