As writers, we’ve heard it before from agents – hook them in the first five pages or get a quick rejection. That’s hard work, but necessary if you intend on getting published. But, have you ever been hooked from the very first sentence? There’s something so intriguing about it that you’re just floored. It’s a line you’ll always remember.
Have you ever wondered what made them work so well? I asked my husband why he thought the first line from Stephen King’s Gunslinger series was so amazing. My husband reads a lot of books – probably even more than I do. But he’s not a writer. The answer he gave me? “Well, it’s Stephen King.” When I raised an eyebrow, indicating I wanted more of an answer than that, it offered up, “It’s a chase. There’s a mysterious guy in black.”
I’ve pondered King’s first sentence: The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.
While my husband is right – there’s a certain air of mystery surrounding the man in black and why he’s being followed. But, as a writer I wanted something I could analyze. This is what I’ve come up with – the sentence contains three crucial things: Character, conflict, setting. We have two characters – the man in black and the gunslinger. Conflict? One man is fleeing, the other following. Setting? The desert. But the desert is also a form of conflict, isn’t it? Who in their right mind would flee across a desert? What is so important someone would follow him there? And yes, Stephen King is a master with words. He summed up those three things in a compelling, short hook. We want to know who these people are and why the chase is on. We’ve been dropped straight into action, the crux of the story right out of the gate.
I’m not saying we should all write first line hooks if it doesn’t fit the opening of our story, but it’s worth a shot. At least write something that makes it difficult for the reader to put down your book. I have to admit, my past two books start with what I hope are first line hooks. They’re not anywhere in King’s league, but I’m pretty happy with them. Both give the reader character and conflict first thing.
Got a great first line from a favorite book? Ever look at it closely and find out what makes it work so well? Care to share?