First Line in a Novel

Should a first line in a novel be dialogue? This was a discussion with a writing student of mine who opened her novel with a line of dialogue. The line was good and worked very well. It just didn’t work for me as a hook.

And of course, the hook in a novel is paramount. Without it, your book will be shelved – and not bought. Worse, not read.

Personally, I find a novel weak when it begins with dialogue, rendering me confused as to what’s going on, who’s talking and why. I want a first narrative sentence that grabs me and wallops me over the head immediately before I get sucked into dialogue.



But, as I mentioned to the student, having said that, what every writer should bear in mind is that your novel is just that – yours, so of course you have ultimate say in what you believe to be the best way to introduce your work. But, trends are constantly appearing in the publishing world (ex. semi-colons and colons are going out of style) and if you want your novel to be picked up by an agent, it is necessary to modernize and bring your work up to what is perceived to be the modern standard.

 It is a fine line to walk – making sure that your novel is true to the way you want it to be and making sure that the literary gatekeepers will approve and take it on in order to get published. As far as my students are concerned – the goal for me is to have everyone  (including myself) published in the traditional way (for me, it is the yardstick for everything). So while we cannot slavishly follow every trend, certain aspects are worth noting so that you can be published. After all, is that not our goal?

 The first page, first paragraph, nay – first line is ultra important to me and as many of my students will tell you very frankly – I have been an unmerciful nag on this subject. It is the crux upon which you can succeed or fail, so think long and hard  how you want to proceed with the opening.

Let me know what you think.

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