Much has been made about the importance of the very first sentence in a novel. Some experts grumble if you don’t have that gripping, magic first sentence, no one will want to bother reading your manuscript or book.
I don’t know if I have ever purchased a book, or chosen one at a library, based on the first sentence. An interesting review might catch my initial attention and send me on a search. The cover might lure me in but more often I pick up a book based on a favorite author, or a subject that interests me. Next, I look at the back cover to get an idea of the content. After that, maybe a peek at the inside flap of the front cover. That is about it for me.
I took a look at the first sentences I used is some of my published novels and novellas to see how they fared.
The Dark Lady: “They say she is the Devil’s spawn, born in a cloud of brimstone and sulphur on a night when the peaks echoed with thunder and the castle walls trembled.”
The Queen’s Pawn: “They are through the city gates!”
The Queen’s Game: “How can I ever trust you again?”
Knight’s Bridge: “I stare out through a crimson haze.”
Housetrap: “I don’t like Elves, never have.”
Dial M for Mudder: “I don’t like the dark October rains, never have, not since my Cousin Edward threw me in the mill pond out back of our old shed.”
House on Hollow Hill: “Bertha Wildwater has been frequently known to say, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, ask,’ and she often uses her authority to advise me where to go, asked for or not.”
Alex in Wanderland: “Alexis came through the door like an unguided missile at the end of its orbit.”
Okay, so I admit that I sometimes like to throw a bit of drama into the opening. I’m just not certain it’s the only critical key to landing a purchase.
The other no-no some experts have been known to throw out is, “Never open with the weather!” Why not, if it is relevant? I probably would if I thought it was suitable, or just to be difficult. I notice that I did at least once above.
While I tend to think the world does not always turn on the opening sentence, the sooner you introduce the main characters, and the plot, the better. When I used to run the judging in an annual literary contest where they often had to read and rank around forty books in a very few months, I instructed them they only had to read the first three chapters. That was enough to indicate whether or not it was a possible winner. My personal opinion is that the reader should be grabbed and well on their way after the first chapter.
How do you choose a book? Where do you look to see if it is worth picking up?