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Unconventional Writing Advice: The First Line Test

It is a truth universally acknowledge that every book in want of a reader must have a superb first line.


Once upon a time.


Classic. Overused, yet fairy tale perfect. And then George Lucas did this:


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.


Mind blown. Amazing. Not from a book, but hot sauce that line makes a person sweat a little. This is what a first line should do. It should sink its invisible claws into a reader, impart a certain tone that will guide that reader through the character troubles you have planned, and it should never let go. It is a spider's web, invisible, yet necessary for novel survival in the jungle of a bookstore.


Your cover will attract the reader, your first line will bite. So how do you get a first line that's going to leave a mark on the reader's mind?


So the importance of a first line cannot be overstated, but don't let the first line stop you. A good first line does not just happen overnight, sometimes it happens in the shower, while you're flying through the air landing on your butt after getting bucked off a horse. A perfect first line cannot be plucked from the air unless it is ripe for the picking. Sometimes a novel comes from the delicious and juicy first line. These are all first line facts.


However, this is also fact: a bad first line will kill a novel faster than a bullet fired at point blank range through a hardcover.


So try this. Go to your bookstore, open a book with an interesting read only the first line. Don't even look at the back cover.


Judge it.


If you've kept up with my semi-monthly Book Round-Up, I have a rule, a book doesn't even get a chance if it can't pass the first line test. In fact, I won't buy a book if it can't pass the first line test. I will put it back.


Do this with as many books as you can and you will see patterns emerge.


The simple, and horrible reality is if a writer can't snatch me in the first line, they won't get me in an additional 60,000+ words. They just won't.


Finding a good first line can be difficult. I find that checking up on other first lines can help ensure you get a line that packs a punch and sinks a hook. Here is a link to a list of other first lines I suggest taking a look at.




And thus concludes UNCONVENTIONAL WRITING ADVICE: First Lines.


Subscribe to my newsletter that contains more of the Conventional Information behind this episode, by visiting my website, WWW.MIKKIHELMER.COM. Make sure you hit subscribe below. Remember, you can take this post with you in podcast form at Unconventional Writing Advice on iTunes or Spotify.


Good luck with crafting your first lines. Feel free to share some of your favorite first lines or check out some of my personal favorites, by checking out my goodreads profile.



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