How Important Is The First Line of A Book?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

One thing I hear a lot in the publishing world is how important the first line is to a story.

Whether it is a short article or a 600-page novel, everything seems to rest on hooking the reader in that first sentence, that first thought, that should (in theory) set the tone for the rest of the piece.

But, how much does the first line really matter? And should it be suspenseful or sexy, long or short, shocking or descriptive?

The following are first lines from some new works, old-favorite, and obscure stories.

Would that single sentence entice you to read more? Or would you just pass it by?

Scroll to the bottom to see the list of books that each line is from. You might be surprised! 

1. "He sat before the mirror of the second-floor bedroom sketching his lean cheeks with their high bone ridges, the flat broad forehead, and ears too far back on the head, the dark hair curling forward in thatches, the amber-colored eyes wide-set but heavy-lidded." 

2. "Off the coast of Kamchatka, Siberia, bundled up and standing on the deck of a German ship, I gripped the railing with oil-stained gloves to avoid being pitched into a heaving ocean the color of a wet gravestone."

3. "The boy's name was Santiago."

4. "Straddling the top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal, I cleared the ice from my oxygen mask, hunched a shoulder against the wind, and stared absently down at the vastness of Tibet."

5. "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

6. "As the man dressed head to toe in khaki turned the corner and began race walking uphill in my direction, I had to wonder: had we met before?"

7. "Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

8. "OH SHIT!"

9. "Catherine Tekakwitha who are you?"

10. "The clock read midnight when the hundred-foot wave hit the ship, rising from the North Atlantic out of the darkness."

11. "When you are traveling in India — especially through holy sites and Ashrams — you see a lot of people wearing beads around their necks."

12. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

13. "We named the houses they put us in."

14. "A few summers ago I visited two dairy farms, Huls Farm and Gardar Farm, which despite being located thousands of miles apart were still remarkably similar in their strengths and vulnerabilities."

15. "I first noticed it several weeks ago."

1. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
2. The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely & Vali Chandrasekaran
3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
4. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
8. Knocked Up by Rebecca Eckler
9. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen
10. The Wave by Susan Casey
11. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
13. A House In The Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
14. Collapse by Jared Diamond
15. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy