Welcome ya'll,

Thanks for checking out my blog. This is mostly my own crazy thoughts on a variety of subjects, but primarily they will be about movies, tv, and books. Being a movie junkie, rabid reader, and TV show-aholic, this blog is just another excuse to feed my addictions. [a quiet 'yay me']. Hope you enjoy, Clancy Metzger

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Books and First Lines

I just read ten blog articles on the importance of first lines in books. They're important. A lot of suggestions were thrown out. I liked many of the ones they named. I couldn't think of any that stuck in my mind, but I may not be paying attention.

If I'm ready to read your book based on the blurb or excerpt, then you pretty much have me committed for at least the first 30-50 pages (less if it really, really sucks). If it kind of blows, then I'll stop. But as long as I really like at least one character, or the premise, or the story, or the writer's voice - I'll finish it. Some get better as the book goes on, some don't. Some I end up loving after being dubious for the first 50 pages. You just never know. It's only a handful that I don't finish at all - but boy-o, if you are one of them, I will never - never ever - read your writing again. Period.

Back to topic... I read the back cover blurbs, I read the tag lines, but I have never read the first line or even the first few lines and thought, 'Boring, I'll move on'. Many people do, apparently. So, I see the importance. You don't want to lose those readers.

But in all honesty, the first line is important, the first page is important, the first and last lines of each chapter are important. They say that the last page/paragraph/line of your book sells your next book. Don't ask me who they are. So, what part of your book isn't important? You gotta love the characters. The setting can pull you in. The dialogue can be authentic or witty. It all has a place and the combination of these elements is what makes you great or not.

This was compared to pick-up lines in a bar. I get that - to some degree. If a guy walks up and says, 'what's your sign, doll?' - I may think he is a jerk, but if he's cute enough or smells good enough or is wearing the concert tee that I have too - then I may give him a few more moments to prove that perhaps he is just clueless about meeting girls, but has charm lurking somewhere.

I am not dismissing the important first line. I want mine to be great whether it is the basis by which my entire book is judged or not. So, what's the point of my musings? I dunno - maybe that's it, just thoughts. I wasn't consciously aware that first lines mean nothing to me as a reader until I started thinking about this. As a writer, well...that's a different story.


  1. I totally understand this. I've been told again and again that first lines are ridiculously important. However, I never much pay attention to them. I'm a lot like you, I'll even forgive a lame first chapter if the book as a whole sucked me in. ;)

  2. I do read the first line after I read the back cover blurb. I've been lucky enough to come up with what I think are great first lines. It's the rest of the manuscript I have trouble with!! :)

  3. Great post! But seriously, Clancy, doesn't "What's your sign?" warm the cockles of your heart? It works for Greg Brady:-)

  4. Before my daughter will buy a book, she reads the blurb, reads the first line and then the little squirt reads the last line. I can't believe she cheats like that but she's done it for years and by the crates and boxes filled with books we've packed for her several moves - it's her method of selecting her favorite reads. We bought her a Kindle for Christmas. Hubby and I are getting to old to lug all those boxes! whew!

  5. It has little to do with readers now a days. It's the fact that agents and editors are getting 12 THOUSAND queries per year and can alot about 10 seconds to a query. Especially since reading their 1000 queries a month isn't their primary job.

    If it's good, they'll give the first pages maybe 20 seconds. If your first line isn't the perfect bait, the perfect hook, that fish won't take time to bite the whole first page.

    You may be an amazing writer. But to be read, you have to be an amazing fisherman.

    And as a reader? There are a lot of fantastically written things out there. Make these writers earn your money. If you're buying on line, make sure you read that first page or two. If they don't hook you, chances are they don't know what they're doing, and your time and money will help bad writers muddy the waters. Reward great writers with your patronage. They'll be easy to find--their first lines will be awesome.

  6. Great post, Clancy. I loved it. Very appropriate for me just now. I'm preparing a short, hands-on program for my writers group. I'll be presenting it on February 12th. You've given me even more research and food for thought. Googling "open hooks in fiction" will garner 1,500,000 plus hits.


  7. Good post, Clancy. Food for thought from both the perspective of a reader and writer. For me, it is the cover and title first. Then I read the back. If I like the voice speaking there, I flip open to the first page. If I'm still debating after my 2 minute test, I do what the comment above said. I flip to the ending.

  8. A great way to look at first lines in a book. Much like not judging it by the cover.
    A couple years back I came across this website for the worst first line. http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/ It's a contest. Honestly, it takes a ton of creativity to come up with some of the lines that get mentioned. Thanks for sharing.

  9. This rocks! I never get comments. Writers ARE rock stars. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. I agree with Lesli that from the writer side - this stuff is important because it's what gets you an agent, a publisher, a contract. From the reader side - 'J' I'm with you...what attracts me is cover, title, back cover blurb, excerpt. Lesli is dead on with the eBook comment - if I don't like the excerpt, I won't read the book. Many have lost me there. If you haven't checked out the website pointed out by Stanalei, you should. Hilarious!
    And Jewel - cheesy pick up lines curl my toes too... HaHa. Thanks for all the nice thoughts and sharing. I love it.

  10. You're so right. It's important to hook the reader. There are too many alternate forms of entertainment out there. For myself, if I like the cover I pick it up. If I like the blurb I open the book and read the first page. If I like the first page I read two or three more. If I get that far, I'll buy the book. =) My sister reads the ending! I could never do that!

  11. Tag lines and blurbs are so important, and I really really hate writing them. I love reading them, and if they hook me, I read the book's last paragraph too. Not really cheating, I just have to know if it's worth investing my time in a story. My TBR pile is ever growing! Very timely topic, Clancy. Lots of good advice here.

  12. Again, thanks to all who commented. All good thoughts.