How many times have we heard that we only have one chance to make a first impression? As well worn as the thought is, it's true. (Most trite statements are true, else they wouldn't become trite.)
As writers, we are taught the importance of a first sentence. An author has a matter of seconds to capture the attention of the reader—whether it be an editor, agent, or the person browsing the aisles of a bookstore ready to spend some money. That first sentence is the first impression--sometimes the only impression--a writer makes and it had better be good.
When pondering on just what makes a good beginning, I remembered those famous ones that we all know—"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . ", "Call me Ishmael", "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be want of a wife." But in truth, it was not those first lines that made me read those books. It was the teacher who was going to test me on them.
When I tried to remember the first sentences some of my favorite books, I couldn't call them up. Yet, I know there must be some common denominator, whether it's universal or particular to me.
These are the first sentences of some of my favorite books.
1. "I wear the ring." The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy.
2. "The Bridgertons are by the far the most prolific family the upper echelons of society." The Duke and I by Julia Quinn.
3. "Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960."The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
4. "Camden William Serrard looked about impatiently, hoping to see Gina." Duchess In Love by Eloisa James.
5. "On the day my brother Michael died, I was standing at a lectern surrounded by fifty-seven bored freshmen scribbling notes to my concise dissection of FRD and New Deal politics." My Brother Micheal by Janis Owens.
6. "As Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, stared at the young woman who had just barged into his London residence, it occurred to him that he might have tried to abduct the wrong heiress last week at Stony Cross Park." Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas.
7. "The day Kevin Tucker nearly killed her, Molly Somerville swore off unrequited love forever."This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
8. "When I was in the third grade I knew a boy who had to have fourteen shots in the stomach as the result of a squirrel bite." This is actually the first line of the first short story in an anthology. Victory over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist.
9. "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind every since."The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
10. "I was freezing my ass off in the back of the pickup when O,W. Meadows finally turned off the blacktop and pulled to stop alongside and oat field."North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent.
11. "Before Maggie Deloach went back for her senior year at college there had been a benevolent Order of Elks parade, a water ballet at the municipal swimming pool in which she had starred with a flimsy backstroke and a water-lily face, a rhinestone tiara loaned from a gift and jewelry chain store in Atlanta, a speech by the governor, and a tattered monkey on the end of a leash held by a Jaycee."Heartbreak Hotel by Anne Rivers Siddons.
12. "Batsheva appeared in our lives on a Friday afternoon as we were getting ready for Shabbos." The Ladies' Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis.
As I look them over, I realize why I was drawn in: something was about to happen and I needed to know what it was.
What draws you in to a book? Do any of these first sentences make you want to read more?
Just for fun, tell us the ones you recognize. I'll post the answers tonight before I go to bed. I don't know when that will be.