I respect the writer who can grab his or her readers in that very first sentence. Often I underline the first sentence just to see what hooked me. What is it about the first sentence that is so important. As writers, we know that publishers and agents rarely read past the first sentence. If that sentence does not grab, they go on to the next manuscript.
Here are some ways to grab your readers in the first sentence
1) Show place or character in a way that makes the reader want to read more.
2) Establish a plot point that makes the reader curious.
3) Write in the show not tell mode (although many of the older writers tell in the first sentence)
4) Surprise the reader.
Here’s an example of a powerful first sentence. “I confess that when first I made the acquaintance with Charles Strickland, I never for a moment discerned that there was in him anything out of the ordinary.”
Do you recognize that sentence? It’s from Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham. Notice how the narrator intrigues us. As a reader I wonder who is this Charles Strickland who seemed ordinary but wasn’t.
How about this one from a less famous author, “On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.”
My gosh, how powerful is that? What miracle? Cross? Has someone died? So many questions for the reader to ponder. This came from The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman.
Here’s another: “On a cool August morning in 2009, I drove up a sloping narrow driveway in Glen Ellen, California, on my way to visit the past.”
This one is from a memoir and yet it, too, hooks the reader. “Visit the past” what is that all about? Author Luke Barr did not disappoint in his wonderful remembrance of the past in Provence 1970.
This one goes a bit beyond the first sentence, but still hooked me. “A woman is sitting before an art nouveau vanity, brushing her hair in the mirror. It is, at least according to the police report, somewhere between midnight and three in the morning. . .” Yep, I was hooked. Notice how this one not only creates plot curiosity but also is written in the “show” not tell mode.
That came from Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian.
What was a first sentence that grabbed you?
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