By Writing Excuses | March 2, 2008 - 10:52 pm - Posted in Career and Lifestyle, Season 1

The first line of any story is the most important.

People get drawn in to a book because of the first line.

Brandon, Howard and Dan talk about how to start a book and what’s important about the first line.


This entry was posted on Sunday, March 2nd, 2008 at 10:52 pm and is filed under Career and Lifestyle, Season 1. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. March 3, 2008 @ 9:10 am

    […] It’s Monday, and that means another installment of Writing Excuses is live. This time around, Brandon grills Dan and I on “first lines,” the importance of hooking the reader, and why he worries that this gets too much emphasis when aspiring writers seek instruction on the craft. Have a listen to Episode Four: Beginnings. […]

  2. March 3, 2008 @ 10:08 am

    So, can the hook be in the first few sentences? Instead of the very first line?

    Posted by Lauren
  3. March 3, 2008 @ 10:50 am

    A good hook probably would be in the first few sentences. You don’t need to throw a one-liner, or grab people with a stunning first sentence.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  4. March 3, 2008 @ 11:10 am

    any plans to create transcripts of these chats someday? I’m deaf so I can’t hear the podcasts.

    Posted by Steven
  5. March 3, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

    @Steven: We don’t have plans to do that, and I’m pretty sure none of us have time, but it’s possible a transcription could be arranged.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  6. March 3, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

    One of the points we were trying to make here is that your book ought to open with a hook, but you shouldn’t really worry about that hook until after the fact. Think of it as a marketing rather than a literary decision: finish writing your entire novel and THEN go back to the beginning and ask yourself “what is the best way to open this book?” If the answer is “a zinger in the first line,” do that. If the answer is “a strong introduction of the conflict somewhere on the first page,” do that. There are plenty of other answers, too; every book is different.

    Posted by Dan Wells
  7. March 4, 2008 @ 12:14 am

    …So, what is the first line of Neuromancer?

    Posted by Michael
  8. March 4, 2008 @ 2:19 am

    Ok, I did remember it correctly…I looked it up to be sure… “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

    Posted by Brian
  9. March 4, 2008 @ 9:26 am

    Eh. Its alright. I just wondered.

    Posted by Steven
  10. March 4, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

    I’m willing to make a transcript. I’m not a font of time myself, but I already took a few notes on the earlier ones. I type fast, so it might not take me much time.

    I’ll just go ahead and make one for episode 4 anyway and see how long it takes me. If it isn’t too much trouble, I can go back to episode 1 and go from there.

    Posted by Matthew Bowman
  11. March 4, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

    Thanks, Matthew!

    If you’ll email the transcript to one of us, we can post it on the site here where it’s easy to find, and will remain archived with the podcasts themselves.

    –Howard (… dot tayler at gmail dot com)

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  12. March 5, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

    One problem with the transcript is that I am still completely unused to your voices and I have my own hearing problem regarding processing. I can get all your words, but sometimes the voices run together. However, I assume that one of you can put in the right names if I get them wrong or leave it blank.

    Posted by Matthew Bowman
  13. March 7, 2008 @ 9:24 am

    Thanks for your help. I really enjoy these podcasts! Maybe I’ll get to meet some of you sometime since I live in Orem, UT.


    Posted by Lauren
  14. March 13, 2008 @ 6:52 am

    What about prologues? That might be a can of worms, but I was hoping you would talk about it during the podcast and it never came up. When is a prolgue appropriate, and when is it extraneous?

    Posted by Sam
  15. March 19, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

    I’ve put up a summary of this episode at

    Hope it helps

    Posted by Mike Barker
  16. March 22, 2008 @ 6:06 am

    Really like this podcast :) Just pimped it on the blog. I got a book to review the other day with a hook that I thought was brilliant.

    It’s by Lauren Groff, from The Monsters of Templeton:

    “The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace,the fifty foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”

    Tres cool. Maybe you could do a show on names … or maybe not, now that I think of it, how would you approach the subject?! Could be difficult.

    Best wishes,

  17. July 8, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

    Well, this post is certainly a day late and a dollar short, but something just occurred to me, and I want to get it out there, on the off-chance that someone might actually run across this.

    I have a recursive definition of a good first line: a good first line is a line that makes the reader want to know why that’s the first line. For example, in the first Mistborn book, the first line is “Ash fell from the sky.” This fits my definition, because now I, as the reader, have a question, “why is ash falling from the sky?”

    It could be I’m off my rocker, but what the heck, eh?

    Posted by Darren Landrum
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  21. January 12, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

    To the senses of something outside time, most focal points in history can go unnoticed; there may be nothing extremely spectacular about what most inhabitants of a planet consider a world shaking event.

    what do you think of this as a first line?

    Posted by alexander baruta
  22. February 12, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

    […] Excuses presents Beginnings, all about how to write the first line and why it’s so […]

  23. December 10, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    I was waiting, literally, this entire episode to see if someone mentioned Neuromancer. That book has probably the best opening line I’ve ever read.

    Posted by Gira
  24. January 22, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

    There is an ‘author’ in The Plague (Camus) who spends the whole book (and presumably years before and after) crafting the first sentence of his novel (which isn’t particularly good). I think he was supposed to be a heroic existential character. But he serves as a cautionary mascot whenever I find myself staring at that first paragraph.

    Posted by stanford