Readers are like fish; they smell the bait but you need skill to hook them.
There’s a saying that the first five pages of a book are the most important. I’d go one step further. I believe that the first line is crucial. The Second line and second paragraph must underpin the opener. Otherwise you don’t really have an opener – you have a reader stumbling into a conversation mid-flow.
That’s confusing. Just ask the countless people that have picked up James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake only to put it down just as quick.
I like metaphors so here’s a fishing one.
The first line of a book is the bait in the water. It’s smelly. It looks appetising.
So the fish swims closer.
The second line is the confidence. The fish checks out the bait to make sure it is what it seems to be; the charade grows. The fisherman has the confidence of the fish.
So the fish takes a bite.
The second paragraph is the strike. The fisherman feels the bite and strikes. If he doesn’t get the timing right or if he uses the wrong style the hook won’t stick and the fish swims away. Probably never to go near that spot again. But if the timing and style are right, the hook sinks into the fish’s jaw.
The rest of the story is merely the fight between angler and fish as one tries to land the other. Along the way there will be many opportunities for the fish to escape but the skill and art of the fisherman, ultimately, decides f he lands the prize or not.
Anyway; here are five first lines. Four are mine. One isn’t. Without using Dr Google can you pick which one isn’t mine?
- Kirk Conway thought, ‘insidious old bastard’.
- Maybe it hasn’t always felt like this, but I don’t really remember anything different.
- I have days when I think, ‘what the hell is it all about?‘; the day-to-day mind-numbing, soul-destroying monotony of it all.
- Dear Anyone Who Finds This, Do not blame the drugs.
- My name is Joel Katz and I’m an addict.
Know which one it is? Have a gut feeling?
Leave a comment below… and don’t cheat – don’t use Google.