The Road to Hell is Really Paved With Killer Opening Lines

I’ve been thinking about first lines. Yes, you want to hook the reader, or at least have them think that oh, maybe this story won’t be a complete waste of my precious time. Yet there’s a fine line there between hooking the reader and false advertising, which is the same thing as cheating. And we’ve already been over the subject of cheating the reader, and all you really have to remember is this–don’t. Not ever. So I approach the subject of “first lines” with a mixture of fascination and unease. I’m kind of with Damon Knight on the whole notion, which I paraphrase: “The problem with starting a story with a really killer first line is that writers often spend the entire balance of the piece trying to justify it.” With the implication being that they’re doing this “rather than telling the darn story.” I think there’s truth in that. Yes, you want a good opening hook, but that hook is usually set in the first paragraph, not the first line. Even an impatient reader will trust you that far, if no farther. What you want is a first line that will lead the reader to the the second line, which leads them to the third and, well, you get the idea. A first line is important, but you don’t necessarily need it to grab the reader by the scruff if you can lead them by the hand. It is, as we’ve talked about before, a matter of trust. The first line has to convince the reader to trust you enough to read farther. The first line has to carry the implication, the hint, that you know what you’re doing. You may not believe you do, and that’s fine, nay even realistic. You’re trying to convince the reader. Continue reading