Scattered around writing blogs is the sage advice along the lines of “3 Ways of Writing a Killer First Line,” or “The Top 10 First Lines of a Novel” or “How to Hook Your Reader in the First Line.”
I have a problem with this. I don’t read the first line of a new novel and stop, judging its worth and merit on a single sentence alone.
I liken it to looking at a Van Gogh painting and focusing on a single brush stroke and missing the beauty and grandeur of the night sky.
A great first line can hook you in. But it’s when you understand it within the context of the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter through to the closing line of the novel that its true power and beauty is revealed.
I read beyond the first line. I want to be caught up in the artistry of the writer, from the first line to the first paragraph to the first page to the first chapter to the closing line; to have the sentences form sedimentary layers over me as I delve into the artistry of the written word. Or like being covered in a large bucket of spaghetti, tangled in the complexity and power of words (you chose which simile works best for you).
The first sentence encapsulates the power, breadth, beauty and depth of a novel. It retains its power because the remainder of the novel bears out the enormity and scope hinted at in the first line.
But every sentence must work for the reader. Every sentence must be crafted as delicately and intricately as the first.
Stand back and admire the beauty of the whole. Then step closer and examine the individual brush strokes to understand why it has captured your imagination.