I follow several writing and author discussion forums. I’m mostly a stalker, watching what others ask and then following as the next fifty posts go from informative and morph into self-promoting then finally descend into combative. Pretty much like every other discussion forum and message board on the internet.
The last week I’ve been watching one that asked about prologues in a book, and if they are acceptable or not. I generally find questions like that to be fishing, just hoping for someone to say of course they are since by following the posts it seemed the writer has no intention of removing their lengthy prologue from their manuscript.
But this got me thinking about the most important words of a book: the first words. If the first sentence doesn’t capture you in some way to read the second sentence, then the book will likely not be read. Think of some of the most famous books and their first lines:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” – Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
“Who is John Galt?” – Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” – Lolita, Nabakov
Great first lines, indeed. Each get you to think about the literary journey ahead of you.
I have two favorite books: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver and Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. But my favorite opening line/paragraph is courtesy Ms. Kingsolver:
“I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign.”
The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
How can you compete with that? The imagery and suspense from one short line, mixed with the unique name of a minor character make you want to keep reading. And I did, and have read the book at least a dozen times.
In my next post, I will share the entire first chapter of The South Coast.