To First Line or Not?


I once read an article bemoaning that there is something of a “cult of the first line” that seems to have established itself in modern writing.  In other words, too much emphasis is being placed on concocting a first line that will grab the reader.  The author asserted there was nothing wrong with an opening that focused more on description or dialogue than action.

True, not every genre lends itself to a throat-grabbing first line.  There’s not much reason to begin a light romance with the words “Lulabelle screamed.”

Even adventurous stories can begin on a gentler note.  “In a hole there lived a hobbit” is a calm statement, yet there is a hook hidden within that benign bait.  What the heck is a hobbit?  The reader wants to find out more about this character, so it’s fitting to begin with a description of his home and personal quirks.

It’s quite possible modern writers are inclined to slap a reader in the face at the get-go because it’s drummed into us that people have shorter attention spans these days.  Instant gratification is taken for granted.  A workshop I once attended pointed out that people read faster than they used to.

It really boils down to what you’re trying to achieve in that particular piece.  Yes, that first line is important, but a whole story will follow and that is what will dictate how you should probably begin.  Don’t get hung up either way.

Lulabelle screamed.  Oh, excuse me, I thought I’d try an exciting last line….

2 thoughts on “To First Line or Not?

  1. I love this! Often I tell my students that setting the tone doesn’t have to be a punch in the face (and clearly the closing line follows this same criteria). Thank you for the successful reference to the hobbit and emphasizing the understanding that an opening doesn’t have to be over-the-top to reel the reader in.

    Liked by 1 person

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