When you think of great first lines, your mind probably recalls Austin’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” or Melville’s “Call me Ishmael,” or maybe even Tolkien’s “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
These, and all opening lines, try to accomplish many things. They might set the tone for the book: light-hearted, serious, silly. We might get hints about the main characters: Are they happy, sad, not human? We should get a sense of the author’s writing style: humorous, literary, action-packed. And we might get an idea of what type of book it is: romance, science fiction, fantasy. You get the idea.
But most importantly, that opening line needs to make you want more. Maybe you just want more of the fun, or you have questions that need answering, or you MUST know what happens next. But something about that first line grabs your hair and shouts, “Listen up, you’ve got some reading to do.”
This week’s book, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, proves the power of a great opening line. I submit exhibit A as evidence: “Applying butt glue to my sister’s backside is, without question, not the first way I’d choose to spend a weekend.”
In this one sentence, Eulberg provides many hints at what’s to come. First, it’s a funny first sentence. Butt glue is just funny, especially when applied to a sister’s bottom. As a result, we know to expect a fair amount of humor in the book (and there is much).
We also know the main character has a sister involved in a weekend activity requiring butt glue (still funny). And we know the main character would rather be elsewhere. Right away, we have questions about why she’s applying the butt glue, and where would she rather be.
With such a well written sentence, I also knew right away I would love it, and I did. Smart, efficient and effective lines are important in every book to entice the reader into reading the rest of the page, then the rest of the chapter, then the rest of the book. A first line is a contract with the reader that what follows will match what started it. When reading a brilliant opener, I take a deep breath, enjoy a stomach flip of anticipation and settle into my favorite reading spot, ready to be swept away.
So, dear reader, Revenge reminded me why first lines are important for every book in every genre — because they are important to us, the readers.
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