UncategorisedTwo top strategies to write a great first sentence | The Editing Lounge

Regardless of which genre you write, your first sentence needs to seduce your readers. Perhaps your first sentence is an invitation. A promise. A tease. A shock. A declaration. 

Whichever approach you adopt, this sentence must be irresistible. It must hook readers and pull them into the page. (Remember that lots of potential buyers read the first couple of sentences in the bookshop or on Amazon before deciding whether to buy.) 

But starting the book is one of the hardest parts. That’s why I always suggest coming back to write this sentence later.

If you’re struggling to come up with a great first sentence, you’re not alone. Even Stephen King has said that he spends ‘months and years’ crafting this all-important sentence. 

So, how can you get this right?

1. Character introduction

If you’re writing in the first person or close third person, you can jump into your protagonist’s head and provide an unvarnished truth that makes the reader want to learn more about the character. 

A great example of this is Sylvia Plath’s first line in The Bell Jar: ‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.’ Unexpected and uncomfortable. The reader will almost certainly want more.

Then there’s Vladimir Nabokov’s first line of Lolita: ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.’ Passionate and poetic. The reader will likely want more again.

And there’s Graham Greene’s first line of Brighton Rock: ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.’ This sentence raises important questions. Who are ‘they’? What has Hale done to warrant murder? Already, the reader should be interested.

Once you’ve crafted a compelling character voice, you’ll be in a strong position to come up with the first line you’ll give your readers.

Character introduction | The Editing Lounge

2. Theme introduction

Theme introduction | The Editing Lounge

Alternatively, many successful novels kick off with a thematic first line, a sentence that infiltrates the rest of the story with meaning. 

Consider Leo Tolstoy’s opening line in Anna Karenina: ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Thought-provoking and thematic, the entire novel reflects this concept.

The same applies to the first sentence of James Matthew Barrie’s Peter Pan: ‘All children, except one, grow up.’

And the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

When you identify your theme, you can come up with lots of first sentence ideas that reflect your novel and its core message. And then you can prune this line into its best shape.

If you need help with your novel opening and hooking your readers…

About Charlotte

Charlotte McCormac | Line Editor | Copyeditor | Content Writer | Shrewsbury | Oswestry

Charlotte is an award-winning writer and line/copyeditor who writes and edits for clients all over the world. She also works on the fiction team for Ambit, a UK literary and arts magazine. 

She holds an international literary prize from Hammond House Publishing Group, two writing-related degrees, various marketing certifications, and training certificates from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, of which she is a Professional Member.

Charlotte’s work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines, and literary journals, including IndigomaniaDream Catcher, and The Curlew

She has also created a series of free self-editing cheat sheets to help new writers hone their fiction before sending their work off to a professional editor.

CIEP | Professional Member | The Editing Lounge