I don’t know who started this rumour about the first sentence being the real ‘deal-breaker’ in a novel, but everyone’s gone totally nuts for it. I recently went to a party where one of the ice-breaker games involved matching opening lines to their authors. I had the first line from The Wind in the Willows, which I think mentions the Mole, and not being a complete ignoramus I did manage to match that to Kenneth Grahame (I nearly wrote Kennith Williams then). Here the Stylist lists their top 100 opening lines from a selection of favourite, and in some cases so-called iconic, titles.
So, should we break out into a sweat over our opening lines?
Do you decide to read or ditch a novel based on its opening line? I really don’t think I do. I doubt I remember the opening line once I get to the bottom of the first page, and I don’t think I would ditch a novel without at least reading the first chapter. The only opening lines I can remember off hand are those that I have been told are memorable/important, and I’ve only learned those to prove that I am ‘officially interested in literature’.
I think you’d have to be pretty crazy to choose to read an entire novel based on its opening line…you’re not likely to think Whoah, this is dull, but I’m going to read on because that was a belter of a first line.
I do think it’s important to think carefully about your first line….but, should you not think carefully about every line in your novel?
I like Betty Blue author Philippe Djian’s take on it all:
“Do not ask yourself why you write or for whom you write, but write instead as if each of your sentences could be your last.”
In summary, write each sentence as if it were your last (in your life) and first (in your novel).