If a book is ever going to grab you, it has to do it in the first few lines.
People are fickle – they pick up books, they browse through it, they put it back on the shelf. Our attention spans are so short that any successful story needs to have a hook right there in the first line or paragraph…
Otherwise all those pages of beautifully written text will be lost to the ether…
In my latest regular segment, First Lines, I will analyse the opening lines of some fantastic books and see what makes them work so well. They may be novels or novellas or shorts. Crime or Fantasy. Comedy or, dare I even say it, romantic fiction.
All that matters are those first words…
Those first wonderful words…
‘You stole my story,’ the man on the doorstep said. ‘You stole my story and something’s got to be done about it. Right is right and fair is fair and something has to be done.’
Do you feel that? Right there in 45 words is the hook that draws you in.
Your mind buzzes with questions:
Who’s the man on the doorstep?
Is he being menacing or just pragmatic?
What is the something that must be done and who is going to do it?
Right there – four questions that are now rattling around your brain.
The beginning of Secret Window, Secret Garden (the base material of the Johnny Depp film, Secret Window) starts in a classic Stephen King style. You’re drawn in right from the first sentence and, now that you’re hooked, it’s impossible to put that book back down again.
But, apart from drawing you in, this opening line does so much more.
There are several key themes that run throughout Secret Window, Secret Garden that are present right here in the opening paragraph.
One of these themes is the idea of plagiarism. The main character – Mort Rainey – is tortured by the memory of stealing a story from a student in his creative writing class and the appearance of the man on the doorstep – John Shooter – starts to make Mort question his own integrity.
Has he ever stolen a story? Or is his entire profession built of the backs of other people’s work?
Right from the word go, this key theme is thrust in front of the reader. Having read the first line, there is no doubt in your mind about what is to come – the only question is how far will Shooter go to get recompense for Mort’s alleged thievery?
Another theme addressed in this opening sentence, although a little more subtly mind, is the idea that Mort and Shooter are somehow the same. We establish from the off that, no matter how far Mort may or may not be a plagiarist, the two are both – to one degree or another – writers. This not only creates an element of competition between the two, but also allows the two characters to find their similarities.
Without going into two much detail, this becomes particularly important later on in the story as Mort begins to realise that he has a lot more in common with Shooter than he would care to admit…
Overall, this is an awesome start to a story – both engaging and brilliant at presenting the themes to the reader. A first line that will just keep you reading…
What do you reckon? Does this opening line make you want to read on? Did it have no impact on you at all? Are you itching to go out and find it or could you not care less? Have a suggestion for a future First Lines book?
Let me know in the comments below and subscribe!