Remember the old Peanuts Cartoon? Snoopy, a lovable beagle, wanted to be a writer. There was a recurring story line featuring Snoopy atop his dog house with his old manual typewriter, beginning his book. Snoopy never got further than his opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
The first line is the most important sentence of any book, be it fiction or non-fiction. That first sentence has a big job to do. It must capture the interest of the reader and convince her to read the rest of the first page and then the rest of the book.
Today’s reader is increasingly busy, distracted, and in a hurry. He will not spend time with a book that is boring, hard to read, or needs twenty-five pages to get to the point.
So, what can you do to craft a compelling first sentence?
Follow these steps to make your first sentence powerful:
- Don’t worry about your first sentence until you are in the editing phase of your book project. If you are in writing phase, just begin your book and know that you can come back to your first sentence to polish it during editing. If you try to write the perfect first sentence during the writing phase, you run the risk of never moving past it to the remainder of the book.
- Pay attention to headlines in news reports, on magazine covers, and on websites. While your first sentence is not a headline, it is the very first experience your reader has of your book so it should be exciting and invite readers to continue. Begin to notice how these headlines are written and see what you can learn from that style of writing.
- Is your first sentence boring? Read it aloud and listen. Does it sound compelling? If not, it needs revision.
- Next, look closely at your first sentence and see if it generates curiosity. When a reader is curious, she will want to keep reading.
- You can elicit curiosity by leading with a surprising fact, a compelling story, a thought-provoking statistic, or by using a metaphor in unusual way.
- Read your first page. Find the most interesting piece of information on that page and make that point in your first sentence.
- Pare down the number of words in your first sentence so that each word is crisp, clear, and serves a purpose. Shorter sentences convey more energy.
Continue to work on your opening sentence until you feel satisfied with it. When your book moves into publication, your editor will also review this opening sentence and make additional suggestions if more revisions are needed.
Your first sentence is the prelude to your reader’s experience of your book. Invest time in making that sentence shine and your readers will thank you by continuing to turn every page of your book.