It’s almost become cliche, the way writing advice books talk about first lines as if they are a fetish item for readers. Personally, I don’t necessarily remember “first lines” as a reader. Not in the “everything before the first period” sense. But you do have a very short time to convince me that I will enjoy this journey you’ve mapped out for me.
If I’ve opened the book, I’m already at least vaguely interested. But as a bit of a bookworm, someone who loves a good story and beautiful wordsmithing, I’m even more than interested. I am primed and ready to WANT to enjoy the book.
Whether in the first sentence or the first four, if you don’t take that spark of book love and make fire… I don’t TRUST you. That’s the best way I can explain it. Even if I keep reading, it’s with wariness (even predisposed weariness) because I don’t trust that you can keep me engaged, that the story will speak to me deeply and consistently enough for me to lose myself in your world and the lives of your characters.
I honestly can’t say I always have poor reading experiences after poor first impressions. But I can say that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of being thrown into something that makes me literally forget time and space for a while, a poor first impression leaves me primed to locate, even fixate, on every rough patch or error. I often don’t even notice many of these issues if I’m swept up in the story from the start.
It’s like finding a rodent or insect in your house. Aren’t you searching every shadow after that? Inspecting every discoloration? Jumping when anything not attached to you moves? Don’t do that to readers. It’s not a fun way to read a book and often these are the books I never finish or only come back to years later.
When I open your book, I’m holding out my hand to you. Meet my hope with something beautiful or fascinating, a puzzle or a glimpse inside something truly unusual. Make me say “Yes. Yes! I will travel with you!” You’re my guide to this world. I have to trust you.
So be my Doctor Who. Widen my eyes and grab my hand and when you say “run,” I’ll do it with a smile. Even if your blue box is a plain old motorcycle or a dragon or space skis or bare feet on glittering beaches.
I want to go. I wouldn’t be knocking on the door of your world, opening your book, if I didn’t want to go. I just need to know that wherever we’re going, I’m in capable hands.
First impressions establish trust.
What do you think? What do first impressions do for you?
Photo: Hook Hand by Phostezel at SXC.hu.