You and I are guilty of many things. We eat the last doughnut. We skip to the end of books and movies. We forget to water mom’s favorites plant when she’s out of town and sometimes we’re guilty of asking a co-worker when they’re due when all they did was eat one to many pizzas.
It is true, not everyone is guilty of such things and for those of you who have never experienced such drama I applaud you.
But there is one thing we all have in common.
We all judge books by their cover
I am a sucker for old book stores. Give me an old building crammed full of books, a creaky floor and walls in dire need of a paint job and I’m hooked.
Thankfully Eugene, Oregon is full of books and old buildings. The town is also full of people like me in search of the perfect story.
I am a sucker for dazzling book covers and equally dazzling openings. I have no doubt the greatest book I have yet to read is hiding in a nearby bookstore wrapped in a lifeless book jacket along with a poorly written first page.
The Ever Important First Page
It is not fair to the author that there are so many people like me. All of us should look beyond the cover and the first page. A book is a relationship between reader and writer and like all relationships time and patience is a necessity.
But life isn’t fair is it and that is why a writer needs to be at the top of their game on that very first page.
A writer needs to concentrate on the one thing they can control: Their writing. In that first page they need to grab the reader and hold them just long enough to capture their curiosity.
As a reader walking around a book store we’ve all been there. An opening line catches our attention. We turn the book over and read the back. We hesitate and hold it a little longer. We walk around looking for something better and if it doesn’t happen, we buy it.
If you listen closely you can almost hear the author celebrating.
Last Sunday morning I played a little game. I grabbed random books off my shelf to see what exactly it was that caught my eye. I’ll have to be honest, some were a mystery. How they made their way to my shelf I’ll never know, but the ones I’ve included below were a no-brainer.
Below is a list of some of the books I picked. I included the author, title and the first line or paragraph. I also added my two-cents to it all.
Check it out:
Stephen King – IT: The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end, began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.
This read like a first person account…..so far as I can tell…which immediately caught my eye. The word terror and paper boat caught my curiosity. But the biggest one of all was at the very beginning….if it ever did end….I had to know.
Stephen King – The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower 1: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of the Gunslinger series but aside from that this is the best opening line I have ever read. One sentence. One comma break. The entire story is told. Incredibly hard to do but the master did it.
M.K. Martin – Survivor’s Club: Subject 12 had forgotten her name. She’d forgotten her boyfriend and her dog, her parents, her friends, school. The only thing she remembered was that horrible day.
There was no first name, just Subject 12. Why? She forgot her life. Why? The final three words sold me…..that horrible day. Perfect!
Lawrence Sanders – McNally’s Puzzle: She slapped my face.
It made me laugh and I don’t know why. I didn’t know if this was a comedy a drama or what. Those four words drew me in. I wanted to know more.
Keven Wilson – The Family Fang: Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief.
It seemed backwards to me. Shouldn’t the children be full of mischief? What exactly were the parents calling art and why were their kids embarrassed?
J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold such nonsense.
I did not want to do Harry Potter. I didn’t buy the series, my kids did. But there it was, within reach so I looked at it and I’ll be damned, JK hooked me. It was so real and honest. This was the Dursley’s voice. I could feel the uncomfortable tone in their voice and I had to know why. What strange and mysterious event happened to them?
Tori Carrington – Dirty Laundry: One of the great things about being a private dick – aside from saying those words and presuming to lay ownership to something possessed only by men – is that it gets you out of going to Sunday Mass.
I’m sure some people would have found this offensive. I’m not one of those people. This is one of my favorites. It was so good I was afraid to put it down. I just knew the other people in the aisle would grab it.
Robert McCammon – Boy’s Life: I want to tell you some important things before we start our journey.
I knew this story was about an eleven year old told in his words. The important things he had to tell me drew me in.
Tim Dorsey – The Stingray Shuffle: Uh-oh. Lenny slipped me LSD. That can be the only exception.
Clearly something happened and it wasn’t good. Obviously it was Lenny’s fault. Or was it? The main question for me – What happened during the LSD trip?
So there you have it. Put everything you have in that first page. It could be the difference between a dusty shelf in a bookstore or a reader’s home.