The power of first lines

Does the beginning sentence need to grab you to keep reading the book?

The first lines of a book must be crackers. Together they will either draw you in or lead you to put it down, never to be opened again. When the combination is just right, the two opening sentences will awake your curiosity, and your eyes will automatically glide on to find out more.

I was inspired to write Wilma’s book after reading The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. Its opening lines are I am a cat. As yet, I have no name. Brilliant, just by those two short lines you can tell that change is on the way for this cat, and you want to find out how and what.

After having read Arikawa’s book and raving about it for a while, my cat Wilma decided it was time to write her story. My book starts with My name is Wilma. I was called Willem for a day, which is also the title and the subtitle of the book. I hope readers will wonder why Wilma was called Willem for a day, why that is even important, and read on.

I am writing this blog in my study, surrounded by books, and will grab the first English novel I see. Ruth Reichel’s Garlic and Sapphires. Just looking at the cover makes me want to re-read this great book, not a novel though. In the book she visits restaurants both as a famous food critic and disguised as a ‘nobody’. The difference in the way she is treated is both hilarious and depressing. Her first lines: “You gonna eat that?” The woman is eyeing the tray the flight attendant has just set before me. Yep, I am hooked in.

One more: From Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger: ‘I’m writing a history of the world,’ she says. And the hands of the nurse are arrested for a moment; she looks down at this woman, this old ill woman.’ Now, that’s a strong opening as there are so many hooks in those opening lines: who is this woman, why does she want to write that big a book, how long has she got to live? I could go on and on but I have made my point. And again: on my To Be Read Again mountain.

How about you? You must have your favourite books sitting near you. Give me an opening line, and I’ll most likely put it on my TBR or my TBRA. Oh dear, in the words of fellow author Joy Margetts: “What have we signed up for?”

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