Original Article: That 1st Paragraph
How many times have you read the first paragraph of an eBook before closing the preview and never thinking about it again? How about just the first line?
As readers, we can all be a little harsh on authors when we expect an intriguing story right out of the gate. As authors, we have to be aware of these expectations and do our absolute best to hook readers from the first line.
An optimistic reader may give you an entire page or paragraph to lure them in and convince them to keep reading. But for many, the fate of your book will be set the second they read the very first line. Will they keep going or close the book right then and there? This is why it’s so important to understand what a great first line reads like.
How about Go Set a Watchman’s opening line from author Harper Lee? It reads: “Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical.”
In only one line, Lee has us sitting in a train car on our way to Georgia. We’re wondering what she’s delighted about, and maybe even what the dining car is serving.
Great one-liners take you straight into the story and put you smack dab in the middle of the scene that’s starting to unfold. By avoiding the classic “Once upon a time”, fairy tales could be made more interesting by skipping the overly explanatory backstory and getting right on with it.
Your first paragraph should not be used to explain where we’re going, when it’s happening, or who was there. Ideally, it will drop us right into the action, showing what the characters are doing right now. That’s how a great book locks in readers.
What Does a Great First Paragraph Tell?
Preferably, not very much. Your first paragraph shouldn’t be focused on giving the reader extensive background info. Hopefully, you really care about your characters and know them inside and out, but your readers don’t need all of that information right off the bat. Let it unfold naturally, through their words and actions. Revealing too much too soon is a habit many writers have, and it can be hard to overcome.
Rather than reading each character’s biography, readers should be learning about them in a more human way as they become engulfed in the storyline. Think of it like meeting a new friend. It would be off-putting to learn the mundane details of their lives right away. At that point, you simply don’t care. The first paragraph should take the reader right into it, telling them just enough to interest them without flooding them with “fun facts” about your protagonist. That’s what really makes a first paragraph great.