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Three Keys for a Powerful First Line

Although it may have just three to twenty words, the first line of a book speaks volumes to the reader.  A flimsy first line quenches curiosity. A boring first line foreshadows content that must be too factual and dry. Match your first line to the quality of the rest of your book—make it sing.

The Starting Line is about writing first lines and first pages for the non-fiction writer. Some of the principles can be applied to writing fiction since I use stories, illustrations, and examples in the Bible studies I write. Please share your thoughts and tips in the comments of each post. We can benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience.

Here are three keys to unlock the power of the first line.

  1. Grab the readers’ attention.

Surprise your readers. Share a statistic, address a heartfelt need, or start with a story. Write it so that the wording grips their attention. You don’t necessarily want to shock them, but you want to speak from a fresh perspective.

As Sol Stein teaches in his book, Stein on Writing,1 “particular” words help. Use nouns and a few adjectives that help your reader not only to see what you’re describing, but to see something unique, insightful, or surprising. Don’t use general nouns or verbs that lose your readers’ attention and cause them to put your book down. Hook your readers’ attention with colorful nouns and vivid verbs.

  1. Stir their hearts.

Reading is an emotional experience. Move the readers’ hearts with a compelling statement, or present a problem that they can relate to. Then give them the hope of a solution. Never divorce your writing from emotion. Just as emotions drive us to take action, emotions drive us to keep reading a book or blog post. We read because we care about what the author has to say about a subject that we’re dealing with or interested in.

  1. Intrigue their curiosity.

Avoid writing first lines that are a dead end. Instead, let your first line be the first street into a bustling city of ideas and adventures for readers to discover. You may want to insert some mystery into your first line by beginning at a point in a story or illustration that omits key elements, or by asking a question that will be answered later. Craft a line to draw your readers in.

Make your first line gripping, poignant, and intriguing. The first line of any piece of writing needs to grab the attention, stir the heart, and intrigue the curiosity. In the comments below, share your thoughts on the three keys, and add any keys that have helped you to unlock the power of the first line.

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1Sol Stein, Stein on Writing (New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), Note: Examples are in Chapter 12, “How to Show Instead of Tell,” and Chapter 29, “Particularity.”

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