Those famous first lines — “Call me Ishmael.” “I am an invisible man.” “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — all writers try for a memorable hook.
After I wrote my best first sentence, and I think it is pretty good — I thought, what comes next?
What is the second sentence? What is needed next to support that zinger, that enigmatic catchy hook, the brilliant first line? I looked into what came next among the famous first sentences in literature. Apparently, sentences two and three are the supporting cast.
Jane Austen’s next sentence is a qualifier and establishes societal expectations may not account for anyone’s feelings or specific personality in the matter. All satire, naturally. “However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
After we learn the name Ishmael — Melville then gives a summary of this Ishmael person and what adventure will embark. “Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”
And Ellison labors to explain just what form of invisible is meant, and the subsequent sentences reveal his rage at social invisibility and racism.
“No, I am not a spook like those who haunted
Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms…”
So, the first line is a hook but the second and third sentences do the steady, patient work of reeling in the catch.