It may well be the most important line of your novel. Why? Because agents, publishers, editors, publicists and, last but not least, readers mind. If they are not hooked by your first line –also called hook line-, they will not consider your book for publication or will not read it. What makes a good first chapter line is not always clear. People disagree. However, most people agree that a good hook includes some theme or problem, a mystery or something that raises a question, and a clear voice coming from your main character.
Introduce the main character, especially if he is an exception:
“The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.” The Iron Man - Ted Hughes
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” Out of Africa - Isak Dinesen
"Kaiku was twenty harvests of age the first time she died." The Weavers of Saramyr - Chris Wooding
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
Write the simplest sentence you can think of which will include the theme or conflict of your novel:
"They shoot the white girl first." Paradise – Tony Morrison
“124 was spiteful.” Beloved - Toni Morrison
“It starts with a crack, a sputter, and a spark.” The Near Witch - Victoria Schwab
Use a shocking sentence:
"Mountains shouldn't scream, but this one did." A Darkness Forged in Fire - Chris Evans.
“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” The Crow Road - Iain M. Banks
Present a thesis that you will have to prove:
"'A burning map. Every epic,' my friend Jack used to say, 'should start with a burning map.'"
Vellum: The Book of All Hours - Hal Duncan
"One cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten." The Darkness That Comes Before - R. Scott Bakker
"I've heard it said girls can't keep secrets." Wildwood Dancing - Juliet Marillier
“In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all.” Jinx – Sage Blackwood
Use foreshadowing (it works better than a prologue):
“I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” Twilight – Stephenie Meyer
Set the tone of your novel:
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
"When a man you know to be of sound mind tells you his recently deceased mother has just tried to climb in his bedroom window and eat him, you only have two basic options." The Steel Remain - Richard K. Morgan
"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone." The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle
“Applying butt glue to my sister’s backside is, without question, not the first way I’d choose to spend a weekend.” Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality - Elizabeth Eulberg
Intrigue your reader:
“The story goes that even after the Return they tried to keep the roller coasters going. They said it reminded them of the before time.” The Dead-Tossed Waves (Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 2) - Carrie Ryan. "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault." Blood Rites: A Novel of the Dresden Files - Jim Butcher
"All children, except one, grow up." Peter Pan - J. M. Barrie
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
“It was nine months after her aunt Lily stole the Bliss Cookery Booke right out from under her nose that Rosemary Bliss discovered something horrible on the shelves of Ralph’s Super Mart in downtown Calamity Falls.” A Dash of Magic – Kathryn Littlewood
Do not open your novel with -- or do it at your own risks--:
- A dialogue because there is no context for it and the reader does not know who is talking. Even if your dialogue works, it will be hard to continue making the dialogue interesting. You will have to make every single line in the first paragraph count.
Example: “Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”” The Making of Americans - Gertrude Stein
One exception: ““Wait– did you– You just yawned!” The vampire’s arms, raised over his head in the classic Dracula pose, dropped to his sides.” Paranormalcy - Kiersten White
- In the middle of an action because the reader does not know yet why he should care about what is happening to the hero.
Example: “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.” The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman
- A complicated, over stretched sentence.
Example: “One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondu to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. “ The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon
- The weather or a description of the landscape because it has been overdone and the weather cannot reflect someone’s mood.
“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.” A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
One exception: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Neuromancer - William Gibson
Why first line works:
Bulwer-Lytton award, given to the worst first sentence in an imaginary novel
Top 10 Most Outrageous Opening Lines in Literature
100 Not Really Best First Lines From Novels http://returnofthetwistedspinster.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/100-not-really-best-first-lines-from-novels/
Random First Line generator http://www.writingexercises.co.uk/firstlinegenerator.php
Story Starters: Powerful Sentences http://writingfix.com/right_brain/Story_Starting_Sentences1.htm
Opening Lines Book Quiz: