The importance of your very first line
I always tell delegates: “Write your first line last.”
I know it sounds strange, but there are three reasons. First, when you start writing you don’t yet know what is going to follow, so how can you possibly write an appropriate first line?! Second, reader’s attention is at its greatest at the beginning. Think about it. As they read on they get familiar with what you are writing, and start to skim, etc. So, your first line needs to match up to that really high – and highest – standard that the reader is waiting – dare I say, expecting – at the beginning of your piece. (The bar is at its highest.)
And third, first lines are the hardest to write, so you’ll be better when you have got into the momentum of whatever it is that you are writing.
More on ideas later in this blog, but my tips are .. Don’t be predictable … Don’t make mistakes … Don’t be obvious/boring.
Instead, try to be original, different and engaging.
Famous First lines
At this time of year, spare a thought for A Level students looking to write their personal statements, in their university applications. They are 17-18 and ambitious. They are thrilled or excited by their subject. But they probably don’t yet know how to write an impactful first line.
Indeed, each year UCAS publish the most commonly first lines to people’s personal statements. Take a look – here are the latest results from 2015:
1. From a young age I have (always) been [interested in/fascinated by]… [1,779]
2. For as long as I can remember I have… [1,451]
3. I am applying for this course because… [1,370]
4. I have always been interested in… 
5. Throughout my life I have always enjoyed… 
6. Reflecting on my educational experiences… 
7. Nursing is a very challenging and demanding [career/profession/course]… 
8. Academically, I have always been… 
9. I have always wanted to pursue a career in… 
10. I have always been passionate about… 
11. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world… 
How to pass the first line test
Do these results above pass the test of being original, different and engaging? Probably not.
Could you do any better?
Here are my top 5 ideas, with examples from my own journalism.
- Cite a fact – LITERACY plays a vital role in improving people’s lives.
- Describe something – Across the country, trading standards are preparing for next year’s cuts
- Make a statement that surprises people, or that they don’t know – First it was builders, then it was plumbers, now it is ponies.
- Quote someone, ie dialogue – ‘How was Cuba?’ everyone is asking me.
- Ask a question (which is my favourite) – HAVE we all been sleeping?
Next time, give one of them a go!