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Grabbing your audience…a glance at the first line.

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When I read a book, there’s a good chance I’m going to read past the first paragraph, regardless of its quality. Then, because I’m an author, I’m going to get at least five to ten pages in—maybe even more—before I decide whether the book is for me. And that’s because I know how difficult it is to be a writer and how challenging those first few pages can be.

But even more challenging is hitting the right note with that very first line or two. It’s not a must do, but a gripping beginning pulls me in and many times, never lets me out of a story before the end. It’s like the author is promising me that the rest of the book will be at least as good as those very first sentences, and I can’t quit until I know whether he or she has made good on that guarantee.

So here’s a few of my favorites. Perhaps you can see how they match up to your favorite first lines, or whether the first line of something you’re working on has as much punch to it.

“The Garretts were forbidden from the start. But that’s not why they were important.”

These first two sentences, taken from Huntley Fitzpatrick’s young adult novel My Life Next Door, had me with that one intriguing word: forbidden. Knowing the main character is a girl, I can already see some Romeo and Juliet type situation unfolding, and yet, I’m also being told that’s not going to be the real issue. Hooked? Definitely.

“They took me in my nightgown.”

The opening line from Between Shades of Gray lets you know the, ah, bad stuff has hit the fan right away. Nothing good ever comes from someone being taken in the middle of the night, and a nightgown shows that she is probably home and being pulled from safety. The line encompasses the whole uncertainty and tension of the story, and even though the book is highly emotional, it is a journey I’m glad I took.

“It began the night we died on the Kamikaze.”

This line from Neal Shusterman’s Full Tilt is a definite winner. I know this because when I spoke to a high school class that had just read this novel, this is the line they gave me when I asked for “first good lines.” The story takes its readers on an intense adrenaline-driven ride from that point forward, as promised by that first line.

So what’s your favorite opening to a book? Do you like waking up with the Dursley’s in Harry Potter, or the heart-pounding beginning of The Outsiders? Crafting that first line is no picnic, but it might just be the thing that keeps tugging those readers along, letting them get into the meat of what your story is really about!

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