Recently I had the privilege of sitting in an excellent workshop at the Breathe Conference in Grand Rapids Michigan where Cynthia Beach, author and professor at Cornerstone University, gave some practical tips on “Creating the Best First Line.”
Here are four of her suggestions:
1) Attend to Grammar. Using subject-verb-direct object structure creates a fast pace and expectations, whereas an introductory phrase-main subject structure sets the tone for a slower pace. Use of the words were, was, and are set the tone for boredom. You don’t want that.
2) Attend to Length. An opening sentence of fewer than 17 words sets a face pace, research shows. Anything longer than that will be processed by the brain as more complex or difficult. Of course a literary or thought-provoking work doesn’t usually introduce itself with mini-sentences, right?
3) Attend to Specifics. The more specific the words you use, the more likely they will create in the reader’s mind a mental image with impact. You want impact, don’t you?
4) Attend to Theme. Many very famous books capture their themes in their first sentences, such as Out of Africa: “I had a farm in Africa. . .” We understand the weight of the past tense. We feel the exotic story coming.
Take the first line of your WIP. Put it through the Beach grinder. What do you end up with? (And we've invited Professor Beach to respond to you, here on the blog. You'll love her!)