I once read an article that stressed the importance of the first sentence of a novel’s opening chapter. After thinking back on some of the books I’ve read, I have to agree. While I’ve read plenty of books that I’ve enjoyed, the best ones had attention grabbing first sentences that hooked you and kept you reading. I thought that I’d share some of these as well as what made them so great.
I, Gera Fitzgerald, was going to kill the king.”
The Irish Princess
Regicide is rare, especially in this day an age. Even rarer is a person who will openly declare that they will kill someone. It was this–in combination with its declarative nature–that makes this opening sentence so compelling. Who is Gera? Why does she want to kill the king? And how did she get to a point where she’d make such a frank admission? All these questions circled in my head with this one sentence and continued on as Gera circled ever closer to the king. The book was as well written as the first sentence and just as Gera is about to deal the fatal blow, the book jumps back several years to the point where all this began.
This job could kill her.
The imminent threat of danger and death is always an attention grabber and the first sentence of Midnight Thief is proof of this. The second I read this sentence I was immediately hooked. What was it about this job that was so dangerous, and why could it potentially end in death? In a concise and clear writing style, the chapter goes on to explain this and in a way that emulates the tension of the first chapter. This was present from the first to the last sentence and made it difficult to put the book down.
I’d never given much thought to how I would die–though I’d had reason enough in the last few months–but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
While somewhat lengthy and certainly not of the declarative variety, this opening sentence got my attention for several reasons. The first was the open discussion about the protagonist’s potential death. Secondly, this leads to revelations that they’ve been in danger for awhile–danger that could lead to death. And lastly, whatever death that was imagined before pales in comparison to the one that the protagonist is facing now. Of course, much as the opening of the Irish Princess, you don’t get immediate answers to the questions this sentence raises, as the next chapter takes a jump back in time, starting before all this occurred.
I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher
The Lightning Thief
While this is the title of the first chapter and not the first sentence, I felt that it warranted mentioning because it was reading this and not the first sentence that grabbed my attention. Now, I’m sure we all have memories of horrible teachers and might even recall their names, but how many of us would vaporize them? How would you vaporize them? And how could it be done accidentally? These were the questions that went through my mind as I read the first chapter, eagerly awaiting the time when Percy would “accidentally” vaporize his Pre-Algerbra teacher.
A well written first chapter is important, but an excellent first sentence is even more so. While these can vary in form and length, they all have one thing in common–they grab your attention.