Reading a first good line is like falling in love…

A writer must hook her reader immediately. It will not matter if the pages beyond the first five or so are so compelling and so well written that it could compete with some of the top novels of all time. Capturing the reader and before that- the editor, is the only way to keep the book from never seeing the light of day.
In the words of Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl, “I think when you read a first good line, it’s like falling in love with somebody.”
Imagine sitting by a roaring fire while the snow falls continuously outside the large picture window at your house on the lake. A steaming cup of coffee or hot chocolate sits on the table by your side. You can not wait to open the first page of the book your neighbor recommended so highly. Ah- but as you read the first couple of lines you are instantly disappointed yet you continue on- hoping for redemption. By the end of the first five pages you are done. Its time to do the laundry anyway.
There is no falling in love there, only disappointment. And as “they” say- people make their first impressions within the first two minutes of meeting someone. After that a lot of hard work needs to be done to change that newly formed opinion.
In the case of a reader looking to “get into” a new book, there usually won’t be a second chance. First impressions are everything. The writer must do her best to create a dynamic opening or she will lose the chance to impress her reader forever.
According to Nancy Lamb in her book “The Art and Craft of Storytelling”, she says a survey conducted in Great Britain for Costa (which sponsors the prize formally known as the Whitebread Book Award for the most enjoyable book of the year) confirms Nancy Pearl’s theory of falling in love. The survey found that 43 percent of readers know by the end of the first chapter whether they will finish a book. One third of readers know by the time they have read the first fifty pages.
I have found that trying to write the first few pages of the book is one of the most difficult parts of writing. Because I am a perfectionist I would re-write it and re-write until I would become so sick of the whole thing that I’d rip it up and forget it completely. I would edit as I go and never be happy.
One way to overcome this is to keep writing and writing- letting the ideas flow from your mind to your paper, not paying attention to which line will actually end up as the actual opening hook. Keep going and later when you are ready to go back and edit, long after you first started, well into the rest of the book- perhaps even after you have finished the first draft, you can go back. Then as you read it with fresh eyes, as if you are the reader by the roaring fire, the real first line will pop out, staring at you like the first budding flower in your garden. You may find it hidden in a tangle of sentences on the second page or even in the beginning of the second chapter. It won’t matter if you place it first without any background information attached and in fact, that may grab your reader’s attention even more. The need to know what it means or what has happened before that will push him on through your story. And it is at that time that you- the writer, will cut and revise so that the first impression you give your reader will surely get him to fall immediately head over heals in love.

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