It’s the moment before the first date.
You know something amazing could happen in the next moment.
You’re standing in front of a shelve of deliciously tempting books inside Barnes and Noble or Books a Million…or even the library. The smell of imagination cooking between fresh print pricks your curiosity and you scan the rows looking for a title or cover to push you from temptation to commitment. Finally, something snags your attention and you draw the book from the shelf, the promise of a tantalizing visit to otherworlds tingling through your body. (okay, maybe I’m the only one who gets this feeling, but I also write fantasy so it works for me ;-)
You slide your hand across the silken cover. It dances with brilliant colors and a magical picture, which encourages you to flip to the first page.
And HERE comes the pick-up line:
Once upon a time….
It was a dark and stormy night…
It is a truth universally acknolwedged….
Either the book grips you in the first page and delivers on its’ promises from the back cover and the front picture, or you realize…this book is not for you. The pick-up line falls flat.
So what makes a gripping first line…a first paragraph even. Part of it has to do with personal preference, I know, but first lines have a tendency to draw us in…catch us…hook us like a fish in the water.
With this thought in mind, I’ve listed a few ‘first lines’ in books (old and new) as an example. See what you think.
“Scarlet O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm, as the Tarleton twins were.” – Gone With the Wind
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” David Copperfield
“A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing among the big trees, and they never saw that little house again.” Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalss Wilder
“Oh, to be a calculating woman!” Julie Lessman’s A Passion Denied
“Nice girl gone bad. That’s me: Claire Le Noyer.” Kissing Adrien by Siri Mitchell
“Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.” Stand-In Groom by Kaye Dacus
“The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.” The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs
“Breathe not a word of my visit, Jean. not to a soul.” Thorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs
“Dragon riding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Ashley grumbled. Enoch’s Ghost by Bryan Davis
Now, interestingly enough, these examples have something in common: They are out to get your attention BUT they use different means to get it.
– Some draw in the reader with ACTION. You enter the story in motion and are swept into the pages.
– Some use INTRIGUE…something’s ‘not quite right’, so your curiousity is peaked.
– Some use HUMOR and brings you in with a smile.
– Others use the UNEXPECTED – something is stated (kind of like intrigue) which is out of the ordinary so to keep from teetering on the brink of confusion, the reader must read on.
-Finally some capture you with WORDS, magically descriptive, palpable words which insnare the senses.
It’s the perfect line to get your attention for a longer visit. Do you have any ‘first lines’ that you’ve loved?
Valerie Comer says
Love the correlation between pickup lines and opening sentences/paragraphs.
Thanks, Val. I love first lines!