After a potential reader has seen the marketing part of your book (the title, cover, blurb and synopsis), they tend to move to the first page to sample your writing, specifically your story telling style. That’s when they see the first sentence.
The first sentence of your novel can convey so much. Its structure and difficulty might not always be reflective of your whole novel, but the potential reader, will certainly assume that it is.
The first sentence also sets the tone of the whole book. Is it going be funny, heart wrenching, scary, confusing, etc? Is it going to be fast or slow paced?
Your first sentence does not need to be mind blowing. It does not need to be the best sentence of your books. It does not need to use the most complicated words in the English language. And no it does not need to create ten different emotions in the reader.
In fact the last two might scare off a potential reader. But a first sentence should grab the reader’s interest and it should evoke emotion.
Below I have picked a few great first sentences (some are technically more than one, but are so short that the eye would group them together).
- Sentences that hint at danger. Besides the mystery, thriller, and horror genre they are often used in fantasy and Sci-Fi, for both adults and YA.
‘Unholy ghosts’ by Stacia Kane
“Had the man in front of her not already been dead, Chess probably would have tried to kill him.”
Immediately we can infer that the main character Chess is a kick ass heroine and someone, who is fairly comfortable dealing with death. The sentence certainly captured my attention.
‘Shiver’ by Maggie Stiefvater
“I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.”
This also puts the heroine in danger and makes us wonder whether she will be alive and/or human (rather than a werewolf or ghost) by the end of the book.
- Sentences that convey something shocking about the main character without putting their life in immediate danger. This leads to several questions forming in the readers mind.
‘Shatter me’ by Tahereh Mafi
“I’ve been locked up for 264 days.”
When I read that sentence I immediately wanted to know the following:
- What crime, if any, has she been locked up for?
- Has she actually committed the crime or she innocent?
- Who is this girl?
- Is she crazy or sane?
‘Splintered’ by A.G. Howard
“I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers.”
Same as above, the sentence immediately triggered questions:
- Is the main character crazy or insane?
- Why can she hear the bug’s whispers?
- What does whispers mean? Strange sounds or actual words?
- Why does she have to collect them, rather than killing them or move to a big city/stay in bug free places?
- Sentences that make the reader smile.
‘Pride mates’ by Jennifer Ashley
“A girl walks into a bar…
No. A human girl walks into a Shifter bar…”
This was a very simple setup. Many paranormal books feature a couple where one individual is human, while the other one is super natural. I liked it that in two sentences the book cut straight to the chase. No 50 pages where the human character can’t decipher what the super natural character is, even though the hints are beyond obvious.
‘The darkest lie’ by Gena Showalter
“Gideon stared down at the woman sleeping atop the bed of cloud-soft cerulean cotton. His wife. Maybe.”
This was funny since normally one knows whether he is married or not. Since Gideon didn’t seem to know, I immediately wondered:
- Is Gideon a drug/alcohol abuser?
- Does Gideon suffer from amnesia?
- Has the woman given something to Gideon to confuse him?
I’ve noticed that a first good sentence spikes my excitement for the story. It makes me read faster through the first few pages and be more forgiving if nothing earth shattering happens on these first pages (e.g. when the hook has to be set up a bit later).
Below are a few types of sentences that can create interest:
- Sexual (sex sells)
- Life threatening (no, we don’t know the hero yet, but life threatening situations still kick our adrenaline into gear, especially if they are unique)
- Normal with an odd element