So you can read my books

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Would you pay months or even years?

Stephen King pays that much ... every time.

He says, "The best first line I ever wrote is the opening of 'Needful Things.' Printed by itself on a page in 20-point type:

 "You've been here before." 

All there by itself on one page, inviting the reader to keep reading. It suggests a familiar story."

He further says in his interview with THE ATLANTIC:

"When I'm starting a book, I compose in bed before I go to sleep. I will lie there in the dark and think. I'll try to write a paragraph. An opening paragraph.

And over a period of weeks and months and even years, I'll word and reword it until I'm happy with what I've got. If I can get that first paragraph right, I'll know I can do the book.

Because of this, I think, my first sentences stick with me. They were a doorway I went through.

The opening line of 11/22/63 is "I've never been what you'd call a crying man."

The opening line of Salem's Lot is "Everybody thought the man and the boy were father and son."

 See? I remember them!

The opening line of It is
"The terror that would not end for another 28 years, if it ever did, began so far as I can know or tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain."

That's one that I worked over and over and over.

I can tell you right now that the best first line I ever wrote -- and I learned it from Cain, and learned it from Fairbairn -- is the opening of Needful Things.

It's the story about this guy who comes to town, and uses grudges and sleeping animosities among the townspeople to whip everyone up into a frenzy of neighbor against neighbor.

And so the story starts off with an opening line, printed by itself on a page in 20-point type:
You've been here before.
All there by itself on one page, inviting the reader to keep reading. It suggests a familiar story; at the same time, the unusual presentation brings us outside the realm of the ordinary.

And this, in a way, is a promise of the book that's going to come. The story of neighbor against neighbor is the oldest story in the world, and yet this telling is (I hope) strange and somehow different.

Sometimes it's important to find that kind of line: one that encapsulates what's going to happen later without being a big thematic statement.

Still, I don't have a lot of books where that opening line is poetry or beautiful. Sometimes it's perfectly workman-like.

You try to find something that's going to offer that crucial way in, any way in, whatever it is as long as it works. This approach is closer to what worked for in my new book, Doctor Sleep.

All I remember is wanting to leapfrog from the timeframe of The Shining into the present by talking about presidents, without using their names.

The peanut farmer president, the actor president, the president who played the saxophone, and so on. The sentence is:
On the second day of December, in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground.

 It's supposed to do three things. It sets you in time. It sets you in place. And it recalls the ending of the book -- though I don't know it will do much good for people who only saw the movie, because the hotel doesn't burn in the movie.

Listen, you can't live on love, and you can't create a writing career based on first lines.

A book won't stand or fall on the very first line of prose --

the story has got to be there, and that's the real work.

And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice -- it's the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul.

So there's incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen."

What was the favorite first line you ever read?
What is ther favorite first line you ever wrote?


"It rained lies and death today."


  1. I can't think of a first line I read. (Not without pulling out my iPad and cheating.) I was happy with the first lines of my last two books. Wasn't as good with the hook on the first one.

  2. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

    Other than that, I don't really remember first lines. But my memory isnt' great.

  3. I would have to cheat in order to remember as well, but I agree that the first line is important. I like your first line, "It rained lies and death today."

    Stephen King is a master at drawing his readers in.

  4. Do you know, I don't know if I pay attention to first lines. Now, of course, I want to pull out all my favorite books and read what's written there. And I love that line of yours. 'It rained lies and death today.' That's so solid, it could stand for almost any kind of story.

    Loved this!

  5. Alex:
    Yet, your first book did well. As Mr. King says, it is the whole of the novel that will carry the book -- not just the first line. :-)

    That has to be one of the best first lines out there! Like Mr. King, I remember most of the first lines in my books like the one in UNDER A VOODOO MOON:
    "I don't want to say being 12 sucked, but I lost count of the times people tried to kill me. I remember the last time."

    Thanks for liking my first line from FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. I remember the first line from Raphael Sabitini's SCARAMOCHE:
    "He was born with the gift of laughter and the knowledge that the world is mad."

    Words Crafter:
    I think the first line to our books should be like the first scene in STAR WARS_A NEW HOPE. That first scene set the stage for awe, wonder, and adventure, didn't it?

    I'm so happy that you liked my first line of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. :-)

  6. "This is not for you." House of Leaves. Memorable and right for the book, it does not invite, it encourages you to leave before it's too late. The favorite one I wrote? "Let me tell you a story." I think it's the first one I ever completely nailed.

    PS. Thanks for the gift :) It's very kind of you. I can't wait to look at your book.

  7. J E:
    That HOUSE OF LEAVES first line does sound ominous. And your favorite first line speaks to the storyteller in me. :-)

    I hope you enjoy Victor's tale. I enjoyed writing it.

  8. I always loved the first line of Atlas Shrugged: "Who is John Galt?" It's simple, sticks, and reels the reader into the mystery of the man who stopped the world.

    My first lines have not been so memorable yet...but I shall work on that.