What Happened To the Kale??!! The Importance of a Novel’s First Line

This is kale. And it has gone missing.
This is kale. And it has gone missing.

The kale is gone.

That’s the first line of my debut novel BEFORE I GO. It’s four simple words, and on the outset, hard to argue that it’s all that compelling of a first line.

It’s not as profound as, say: Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. (THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD — Zora Neale Hurston)

Or as memorable as: Call Me Ishmael. (MOBY DICK — Herman Melville)

Or as intriguing as: All children, except one, grow up. (PETER PAN — J.M. Barrie)

But here’s why I wrote it. It puts you in the middle of the action. Granted, it’s not exciting action— like someone who’s just been shot, or a bomb that’s just exploded, but it is an immediate problem: Where did the kale go? Why is the kale important?

And I think that’s what a first line should do— compel a reader to read the next line. That’s it. Simple really. But anyone who’s written a first line, knows it’s really not that simple. And most authors will tell you that they spend hours, days, months rewriting, editing, and tweaking their first lines— even to end up with something as simple as Call Me Ishmael or The kale is gone. Because if you can’t suck the reader in immediately— if they don’t even want to read the second line of your book — then you’re in trouble. (No pressure or anything!)

Struggling with your first line? Here are a few great blog posts with tips that might help:

7 Keys to Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel

7 Ways to Create a Killer Opening Line for Your Novel

Why Stephen King Spends Months and Even Years Writing Opening Sentences

There. Once you’ve got that opening sentence, the rest is a breeze! It’s like getting through labor, and then all you have left is raising a child for the next 18 years! Oh, wait.

What are your favorite first lines in novels? Do you have any sure-fire tips for writing good ones?

 

 

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Colleen Oakley is the author of BEFORE I GO (Simon & Schuster/Gallery, Jan. 2015), a love story. A former editor for Marie Claire and Women's Health & Fitness, she's now an Atlanta-based freelance writer. Find out more at colleenoakley.com.

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This article has 4 Comments

  1. A great first line–especially for a kale lover like me. It asks all kinds of questions that compel the reader forward. Of course I know a few people who would say, “The kale is gone? Good!” But then they’ll read on because they want to know how to get kale out of their lives.

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