We’ve talked about first lines on the blog before, especially focusing on how they can get the reader’s attention and establish the setting and tone of the novel right away. All of that is still true, but as I was thinking through our June releases, I realized the opening lines and chapter of a novel can also be critical for helping the reader connect and sympathize with the main character.
Sometimes that task is easier than other times. Want to see what I mean? Below are examples from this month’s Bethany House releases, along with a little commentary from me on why the opening lines worked well. (As usual, you can click on a cover for a longer excerpt of the novels to get a better sense of their openings.)
Delilah by Angela Hunt
“No woman sets out to be wicked. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about men.”
Those first two lines, besides being punchy and attention-getting, establish the premise that everyone has motivation for what they do. Knowing you’re coming to a book about Delilah, with half of the chapters narrated from her point-of-view, that’s pretty important. The first chapter and the events that follow shortly thereafter make you see that Delilah wasn’t a generic bad girl of the Bible, but a real person.
From This Moment by Elizabeth Camden
“Romulus White stood motionless in the crowded ballroom, staring at a woman he’d once longed for more than his next breath of air. It was not a pleasant experience, especially since Laura stood alongside her doting husband.”
Fancy-dressing, slightly arrogant Romulus could have come off as irritating, but starting with the very sharp, familiar emotion of “what-ifs” and “could-have-beens” was a great technique that gave us a way to relate with Romulus. And when we relate to a character, we care and want to read more.
No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer
“Malachi Shaw made the arduous climb back into consciousness with great effort. But everything Mal had accomplished so far in his thirteen years of life had required great effort. Not that he had achieved anything worth bragging about. Orphaned. Starving. And…cold.”
Malachi could be just a generic poor orphan character, but because of his response to his rescuing “angel” in this early scene, you care intently about both him and the young heroine who helps him. This sets up the characters of both and makes you want to see them grow up and fall in love…but, the story being over 300 pages long, you know it won’t be quite as easy as that!
A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell
“If one would drown one’s sorrows with music, the music must be loud. On the seventeenth of February, 1880, if Charlotte’s fingers had not pounded out Haydn’s Andante with Variations in F Minor so forcefully, the score would not have slipped from its stand. She would not have heard the hoofbeats.”
A mother who has virtually ignored her daughter for years sounds like a difficult protagonist to root for. But the unexpected visitor who follows, bearing exciting—and dangerous—news shows us the odds that are stacked against Charlotte and helps us understand why Charlotte broke off contact with her daughter. From the very start, I was rooting for Charlotte and Rosalind to reconnect and escape the threat posed in the first chapter.
Just for fun, pick a book near you and write the first sentence or two in the comments!