It’s raining buckets outside, and for once I’m not out in it. Scout’s asleep, all the lights in the house are off, and I’m wrapped up in a blanket preparing to write away while watching the rain soak the world around me. This is a good moment, folks.
I’ve been thinking about first lines a lot this week. A friend sent me the first line of her novel to critique, which was fabulous and totally made me want to read the rest. But when I went to reciprocate, I didn’t have the guts to send just the first line. I had to give her the whole first page, because I couldn’t bear to place the brunt of judgment on one sentence.
A while ago, I wrote this post about some of the truly fabulous first lines in literature. I will admit that a good first line has a certain magical quality about it, but I sometimes feel like it’s achieved this idolized status as the only standard by which your book will be judged.
When I pick up a book I know nothing about, the cover is the first place I look. Then the flap description, then the first page. Not the first line. I give almost every book the entire first page to draw me in, and more if the flap description presents an intriguing concept.
Not even that much is enough to give me a good idea of whether I’ll like it sometimes. I passed the Ranger’s Apprentice series over for years because I didn’t love the cover, and the flap description didn’t speak to me. I even read the entire first chapter and was unimpressed. But I finally picked it up on my sister’s recommendation, and the second chapter had me hooked. I burned through all twelve books in about two months.
So I’m curious: how do you judge a book? By its cover? By its first line? By its description? By some combination of factors? Does the first line really deserve all the weight of responsibility we place on it?