The Importance of Every First Line

dickensIt was the best of lines, it was the worst of lines. 

Most writers are aware that the first line, paragraph, and page of a story must be perfect. Compared to the rest of the words in the work, these demand an inordinate amount of attention.

And with good reason.

If the cover of the book caught the potential reader’s eye, and the blurb was catchy enough to arouse further interest, the first page is the next place up for evaluation. Whether the reader is browsing at a bookstore or online using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, your book isn’t sold until you pass the first page test.

But once you’ve passed that rigorous evaluation and made the sale, you don’t get to coast. Not if you want to end up on that reader’s short list of authors to come back to.

You’ve got keep her entertained, all the way to the end. That’s about the whole content of the book, of course, and for the sake of argument, we’ll assume you’re going to bring it.

So, your reader has made it through the checkout with your book in hand (or electronically whisked through the ether to their reading device), and has settled in for a comfortable evening’s read.

If you don’t commit any egregious mistakes in that first scene, the reader will turn the page. And what do they find?

Another first line.

Each scene is a change of time, place, and or character. It is a new proposition, and another chance to re-engage the reader.

As a writer, you may be focused on the mechanics of getting your characters into our out of some situation and overlook the need to punch up that new first line. It’s like a downbeat in music – One, two, three, four, One, two, three, four. Without the accent, it is just a stream of beats.

Try and put a little extra focus on every first line by imagining if it were the opening line of your book. I’m not saying it has to be that polished and dramatic, but by running it through that filter in your mind, you’ll give it the extra attention it deserves and re-engage your reader in the same way the downbeat keeps the dancefloor bouncing.

Keep ’em dancing till the break of dawn.

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