When you first crack open a book, be it one you anticipated before getting a hold of it, or whether you are browsing a bookstore and curious about the tone of the book, the first line of the book is your first impression of the writing in the book. I was thinking about this as I was thinking about next week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (Best Book Beginnings/Endings) and when I read this article about Stephen King and his opening sentences. I know the first line isn’t everything, but it helps set the stage for the rest of the book. One of the examples given in the article I found really interesting…
They threw me off the hay truck about noon.
This is from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which I have never read, but I find that opening line fascinating. Sounds like this character is a drifter of sorts, since he’s hitching a ride on a hay truck. But what led him there? Why did he get kicked off? Already I have questions! And that’s a good thing! Here is another beginning that certainly catches your attention with the first several lines:
First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.
*** HERE IS A SMALL FACT***
You are going to die.
This is the beginning of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. You don’t know yet that the narrator is Death, but he has certainly caught your attention, you know he’s not human, and the stage is set for the tone and style that will carry on throughout the novel. And then one more I wanted to share, from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, which I have not read yet but is on the top of my TBR pile:
It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
This too begs a question: why will someone die because it’s November 1? What happens on November 1? And of course, we also have the time of year, which is nice. I think that generally, it’s important to establish a character and a setting within the first paragraph.
As someone who does write, I do find beginnings hard sometimes, or at least a good, powerful beginning. I feel like I have improved since I’ve learned to eliminate all fluff in writing and get right to the action, the good stuff. If you ever read anything I write, chances are you won’t be waiting for something to happen in the character’s life; it will be happening quite quickly. It might not be the most earth-shattering thing ever, but it’s something important to the character. I have found that I have a low tolerance in both reading slow beginnings and writing them.
If I get bored writing a sentence, a paragraph, or a scene, I know it must be boring for the reader too. I believe that everything written should be something that either advances the plot/story forward, or that advances the character’s personal growth/character arc. That’s why it’s important to not just begin strong, but to have a strong middle and end as well. And it’s hard! But it’s important. And I think the first impression of a book says a lot to a reader who is just getting started on the adventure the writer has crafted.
What do you think? Does a book’s beginning make a difference to you? What kind of opening line grabs your attention?