There's no denying the lure of a great first line. Most people pick up a book based on the cover and/or title. After that they read the jacket info and the first line or two to see if the book draws them in. A judge, agent, or editor is likewise drawn to your story--or not!--by the first line.
So it's crucial to have a beginning with a hook.
How do we as writers obtain a hook? Since I'm a fan of lists (they're so tidy and handy), here are ways to be "hooky" with a first line or opening. Try one or all, as suits you.
1. Give a few tidbits to pique interest and mystery--but don't answer all questions.
2. Start with a mood or tone that accurately reflects the genre and style of your story.
3. Starting with dialogue is difficult to do well, as readers are thrown into the conversation without knowing who the characters are. First tell us why we should care.
4. Starting in mid-action can also be disconcerting, before readers know the characters.
5. The starting scene is the day everything changes for your main character. Back up a bit from the "inciting incident" or pivotal moment to ground the reader first.
6. Avoid cliché openings: characters waking up, having a dream, being chased, etc.
7. Don't sweat it! Often you must write the entire novel to write the first line properly.
8. Try not to start off with long lyrical (purple) prose or descriptions. You'll lose readers.
9. Keep the first line relatively short. Read it aloud; you shouldn't run out of breath.
10. The rest of the story should flow naturally and logically from the first line.
11. A first line may intro the main character, but it's not necessary to say the entire first and last name; it often creates a closer/intimate feeling by using only a first name.
12. Don't be gimmicky and throw out a false hook or promise. Readers won't be pleased.
13. Try not to start your first line intriguingly, then fall into dull backstory or musings.
14. Run your opening by your critique partners and see if they are hooked--or confused.
15. Beware of using passive voice or verbs (is/was) unless you're doing it consciously.
16. Only begin your story from a future vantage point looking back if you want the reader to know the main character has survived his/her ordeal.
19. Some agents--like mine--hate stories that start with character stats: "Hi, I'm Brian, and I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes."
20. The best first lines are iconic and give an encapsulation of the thrust of the novel.
MY FIRST LINE
I always felt the first line of my novel SHAPERS was a bit yawners and didn't encapsulate a sci-fi feel. This is what I had-- which is now the 2nd sentence:
I pull the weight bar down to my chest, sending a fuzzy burn through my biceps.
So Agent Kelly and I came up with this (mostly her idea). It seems more iconic/hooky:
Five more reps, and I should be done with this body for good.
FIRST LINES of books I've recently read.
CHIME by Franny Billingsley: I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.
ROTTERS by Daniel Kraus: This is the day my mother dies.
DARK EDEN by Patrick Carman: Why are you hiding in this room all alone?
OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn: A zero like me shouldn't take public transportation.
THE DOCTOR'S LADY by Jody Hedlund: "Indians!" (dialogue that works fine)
What is your favorite first line from a published novel?
Have you ever started a novel with your character waking up?
What is the first line from YOUR novel or piece of writing?
Do you have any other suggestions about creating hooky first lines?