If you’re following along, you’ve already written an introduction to your book. Pull that document up and read the first line in your head.
Now read it out loud. Pretend you’re saying it to another person to try to convince them to listen to you for the next six hours.
Does your first line grab attention? Does it tell the reader, “Hey, you! You really should really read this book! It’s awesome!”? Or does it just sort of say, “Hey there. I’m a book.”?
A good first line in a nonfiction book will excite the reader. It will make their heart start pumping faster and make them think, “Ah, at last! This is the book I’ve been looking for!” You want them to feel that they’d better make their lunch and brew their tea early, because once they start reading, they won’t be able to stop.
The way to have that effect will vary from book to book, so there isn’t a lot of advice I can give on the subject at the moment. You may not know your first line just yet. It may come to you sometime this week, or next week, or even when you’re nearly finished with your first draft. It may introduce an example showing the power of the material in your book. (If that’s the case, read the fiction section of this week’s post as well to help you choose a good starting point.) It may predict the reader’s current state of mind, showing that you understand them. Or it may do something else entirely.
One way to check out the power of your first line is to look at the verb it contains. Does the verb resonate with a particular emotional vein, like “revolutionize” or “imagine” or “destroy” or “create”? Or did you use a less powerful verb, like “have” or “gain” or “find”? Changing your verb to capture the tone of your book will force you to revise your first line to match, and can help you inch closer to that perfect opening.
If the first line of your introduction isn’t excellent yet, don’t stress about it. That’s what revisions are for, and you have plenty of time to fix it later. Instead, move on to your first chapter this week. Try to start the chapter with a line that grabs attention.
Your challenge for this week is to write the first 600 words of your first chapter, following your introduction. Use the first topic in your outline as the chapter’s subject. Start with a good opening line. Then begin relating information about the topic to your reader. Write naturally, as if you were simply explaining your topic to another person. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t worry if you didn’t phrase something perfectly. Just write.
Questions? Problems? Share them in the comments for personalized help!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech
(Proof that powerful writing doesn’t require a ton of words!)
Where to start your book? With a scene and first line that make the reader lean in, grip the pages of the book tighter, and go, “Ooh. This is gonna be good.”
Your novel should begin at a time of change. Up until this point, everything in your protagonist’s life has been one way. Now everything is (or is about to become) different. The course of the story then follows the results of those changes, bringing the reader on a ride to see where the dust settles. Maybe things will go back to the way they were. Maybe they won’t. They have to read the book to find out. A powerful opening line of a powerful opening scene will get them pumped to do that.
There are multiple ways to capture the reader’s interest, but the easiest method is to start with action. Show a character in the middle of doing something. Action grabs attention because it’s easy to visualize and automatically carries conflict–will the character finish what they’re doing or not? Even an activity as mundane as making a sandwich contains that inherent conflict. It automatically invests the reader in the outcome of the situation.
The character in question doesn’t have to be your protagonist. It could be your villain. It could be a third-party character we never see again, but who observes something relevant to the plot taking place. It could be a fly on the wall. Anything. Whoever you choose, show them doing something, and you’ll have a decent start.
Your first line should let the reader know that they’re observing an activity, explain or hint at what the activity is, and do so a way that conveys the tone of the book. In the sandwich-making example, you could start with the knife cutting into the completed sandwich for a harsh, jarring opening, or with the knife spreading mustard in an even pattern for a more soothing opening, or with the frustration of the cheese not slicing properly for something more humorous.
Your challenge this week is to start writing your book from the beginning. Refer to your outline, create a decent opening sentence, and then convey the action of your opening scene. Your first line and scene won’t be perfect. You will need to revise them later. That’s okay. Write them, leave them alone, and move on to the next scene.
Try to write two full chapters this week. Introduce your main character(s), reveal a bit about their personalities, and show why you chose to start the book at this point. If you write 300 words each day, you’ll reach 2,100 words by the end of the week. (You can do it!)
Questions? Writer’s block? Share your experiences in the comments for personalized writing help!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Fiction: 2,500 (counting your 500 word scene from two weeks ago)
Your book is twice as long as: “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe