The Importance of a First Line

The best day of her life was also the worst day of her life. Exhausted, tears chased each other down her cheeks, and while a smile threaded her lips it did not quite reach her eyes.

clip-art-reading-556419Are you still reading? Then the first line has done its job!

Has anyone ever told you, “Once you get past the first few chapters, this book is awesome!”? Then that book has not delivered for its readers. The first chapter should knock the reader off his or her feet and keep them wanting more. The first line of any piece of writing should enrapture and interest. Without that initial interest, readers will not be excited to keep going.

The example used in the first lines of this post is geared more towards a creative writing piece. However, any type of writing, whether it be an essay, admission letter, research proposal or novel, deserves a killer first line.

Some ways to begin a piece of writing can include:

  • Quotations – A thought-provoking quotation that hones in on the central theme of your piece is a great way to start. Sometimes, someone has already said it best! Use their words and always give credit by putting their words in quotes, followed by the speaker’s name.
  • Questions – If you want your reader to stop and think for a moment after the first line, start with a question. If you are writing a college admission essay about the importance of a family recipe, you may want to ask the reader “Do you remember the aroma of your favorite food growing up? That feeling of family, and the anticipation of the delicious dish that is about to tickle your taste buds?” The reader should experience a more sensory attachment to your writing, and most importantly continue reading.
  • 9781599869513_p0_v1_s260x420In medias resIn medias res is Latin for “into the middle of a narrative; without preamble” according to dictionary.com. Oedipus the King is a famous example of in medias res. As the story begins, Oedipus steps out of the royal palace of Thebes and is greeted by a procession of priests, who are in turn surrounded by the impoverished and sorrowful citizens of Thebes. Thebes has been struck by a plague, the citizens are dying, and no one knows how to put an end to it. There is no preamble to introduce Oedipus or his city; by starting in the middle of the action the reader is intrigued to both learn the back-story of Oedipus and the future of Thebes and its King.
  • Images – A descriptive adjective is a vivid way to begin a piece. You can describe candlelight flickering, a torch’s firelight dancing, or a match’s top struggling to give it beholder enough warmth.

What is your favorite way to deliver a first line? Happy Writing!

By Ally Evans

Ally Evans is a recent college graduate living in New Jersey. She is currently a Festival Coordinator for an arts program. When she is not at the office, Ally loves reading, writing, playing volleyball and going out to eat with friends. Her favorite books include The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Shining by Stephen King. She is excited to bring her passion for reading and writing to ESL Write Away LLC!

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