• Richard James

First Impressions

Luckily, when it comes to learning your craft as a writer, there are countless authors who have gone before and got it right. This is particularly true in the case of first lines.

The first line of your book might be more important than you realise. They can give a flavour of the genre, they can be a tease, they can surprise. But, I believe, along with the cover, they play a great part in convincing the reader to read on, and perhaps even buy your book. Online, Amazon provides the digital equivalent of browsing in your local book store. After being attracted by the cover, you might be tempted by the 'look inside' feature. This gives you the opportunity to read the opening chapters of your intended purchase. Those first lines can either persuade or discourage, so it's important to get them right.

The ancient author of the epic poem, Beowulf, knew this. Their insistent 'Lo' calls us to listen. In a more recent translation by Seamus Heaney, he gives us the word 'So' in its stead, which gives us the feeling of coming into the saga almost mid-conversation. George Orwell's 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen' is a genuinely unsettling start to his 1984. The striking of the clock subverts our expectations and lets us know that not everything is as it seems. And who could forget Jane Austen's famous opening to Pride And Prejudice? 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife'. Right from the off, we know what kind of book we're in for and what sort of world her characters inhabit.

As for my Bowman series, I've always used the opening lines to do a lot of heavy lifting. I hope they tease the reader, give some idea of the themes and events to follow and tempt them to read on;

'The dreams had come again.' The Head In The Ice

'It had been eleven months since he'd killed his wife.' The Devil In The Dock

'Detective Inspector George Bowman stood on Hanbury Street, blinking the dust from his bloodshot eyes.' The Body In The Trees

'For the first three nights, he was restrained.' The Phantom In The Fog

Perhaps it's unfair to expect a few words to achieve so much. You might even think it a cynical ploy, a cheap trick. But here's the thing. Every other author will be doing it. And if your objective is to find new readers and tempt them to buy your book, perhaps you should do it to.

If you have yet to join the investigation, Bowman's story begins with the first novel, The Head In the Ice and continues through three more novels, The Devil In The Dock, The Body In The Trees and The Phantom In The Fog. A series of eight short stories that take place between the books have been collected into two volumes, City Of Death and City Of Fear, meaning every month of 1892 is chronicled.

For a taster, subscribe to my newsletter to receive the first two short stories, The Smithfield Murder and The Hackney Poisoning, for FREE!

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