I’m not so sure anymore.

Of course, it seems like gospel that the first sentence of a story is important. It’s your hook, isn’t it? It’s how you get the reader into the story. You should put as much thought into that first line as you would as asking your significant other to marry you!

But I’m not convinced anymore. That may be strange, considering how often I used to (and sometimes still do) the #FirstLineFriday meme on this blog. You know, that thing where I post the first line of a story and hope it gets you into the story? But then again, maybe that’s why I’m unconvinced. I’ve posted first lines so many times, I’ve recognized how little effect that they have on the total story.

And you know, if you look at some famous books, you kind of see that. Harry Potter‘s first line is “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Most Muggle-ish opening you’ve ever read. It doesn’t really hint at what’s to come in the story, and I honestly would have cut it from the final product if I had edited the first book.

And Stephen King’s stories don’t usually have those sorts of openings. The first line of IT goes like this:

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

It’s a nice opening, but it doesn’t exactly scream…well, going to make you scream. It’s actually kind of mellow. And the opening for Needful Things is even more unassuming: “You’ve been here before.” Kid you not, my first time listening to that book on audio, I had to repeat it a few times because it was totally unexpected and confused me a bit. Only as you keep reading does the opening make sense with this story.

Maybe this is why some books have poems, excerpts from other famous stories, Bible verses, or even song lyrics at the beginning, before the story even starts. You read those little epigraphs (that’s what they’re called, I check) and keep reading to see how it relates to the story you’re taking in.

in any case, I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not the first sentence, or even the first paragraph, that’s responsible for making a story’s opening catchy. It’s maybe the first couple of paragraphs or the first page. When the author sets up the story, the characters, the setting, that you really get pulled into the story.

The opening of the story should be like opening a door to guests. Yes, that’s important, but what’s inside is even more important. Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

That’s certainly the case with my current story, where I set up a nice, rural setting, something kind of idyllic…and then one of my main characters reveals that he’s a neo-Nazi. It’s a stark contrast from the first paragraph that takes the reader off-guard, and hopefully will get them reading further along. I’ll have to finish the story first to see if that’s the case, however.

Anyway, the first sentence is important, but it’s not the most important thing about a story. Rather, it’s just the opening of the door and allowing people to take a quick look before stepping inside. What’s beyond that is what’s truly important. You just have to make sure to open the door and open it well.

But what’s your take, Followers of Fear? Let’s discuss openings and if the first lines of a story really are as important as we make them out to be. I’m curious to hear what you think on the subject. Maybe more of you will agree with me than I imagine.

Happy New Year, my Followers of Fear. I wanted to start this year off with a post that’s reflective on the craft of writing, as I enjoy writing those posts. Anyway, I hope you’re having a good 2022 so far. Mine’s been rough so far, but that tends to be the case with the first full week of January. And at least there’s a lot to look forward to right now: editing and releasing Hannah and Other Stories; putting out the paperback and ebook copies of The Pure World Comes; conventions and expos; maybe a bit of travel; and, of course, some good reading and writing.

Oh, speaking of conventions and expos, I’ll be at the Hidden Marietta Paranormal Expo on the 29th in Marietta, Ohio. If you can, stop by the Lafayette Hotel and maybe I’ll sign your book and read your Tarot.

Also, the crowdfunding campaign for That Which Cannot Be Undone is at 58.5 percent! We’re over halfway funded and we just keep going! And if you would like to help me and my fellow Ohio horror writers put out an amazing anthology of horror stories set in our state and revolving around the theme “that which cannot be undone,” click on the link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology. There are also some amazing perks to pledging, like candles, Ohio-themed Tarot cards, copies of the book, and even end up in one of the stories! How cool would that be?

Anyway, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have more stuff to tell you soon. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares!

  1. I do think the first line is important. It doesn’t have to make me believe the whole book is gonna be great, but it does need to tell me I’m in the hands of a competent writer so I’ll keep reading. I like the Muggle-ish Harry Potter first sentence because it characterizes the Dursleys.

    I like the idea of an idyllic setting contrasted with the evil of a neo-Nazi character. It’s a disturbance. You’ve turned the screw, tightening the wire. The reader has tension, spurring him or her to keep reading.

  2. Hmmm … I don’t think the first line needs to reflect the entire tone of the book, but it IS very important. I’ve browsed books in shops before, read that first line and put the book away if it didn’t hold my attention in any way. The examples you used of Harry Potter and Stephen King both would have worked for me. There’s a certain kind of humor with HP and intrigue for IT.

  3. The first line is important in so far as every line is important, but I’ve never had such a short attention span that I’ve decided to read or reject a book over the very first sentence. An opening hook is nice, but it’s pretty hard to boil down an entire book’s themes to a single line. If that were possible, we’d just have one sentence stories. It’s the first page, or first few paragraphs. And, while I think the first line should be as polished as every other line in the book, I think the modern author culture puts too much stress on it, like they do a lot of things, because frankly it’s a toxic culture that spends most of its time making everyone compete for the title of “real writer” and throwing out more and more checklists and hoops to be jumped through to prove how serious we all are. That’s why I’ve dropped out of it for the most part.

    • I had wondered about that.

      • I’ve found I feel much better about writing when I’m not worried about the insane competition and making sure to meet all the criteria of some nobody who has fewer or the same book sales I do, LOL! The author world is filled with a bunch of pompous, self righteous people who set themselves up on thrones with no more qualifications than you or I have. Not to say there aren’t some great authors out there who are fun to interact with, but I’ve noticed most of the ones I know/knew have gone quiet as well, probably for the same reasons.

      • Yikes. Well, hopefully I don’t feel pressured to go quiet myself.

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