Dear Editor:

Do you think it’s essential to start a novel with a dynamite first sentence? —Mark S.

Absolutely. Your first sentence must entice, impress, surprise, and maybe even shock the reader. With all the competition for a reader’s attention these days, it’s important to try to hook your reader instantly, so spending the time it takes to craft a powerful opening sentence is well worth the effort. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this,” as Stephen King said in a 2013 interview. Think of the opening sentence as an invitation to read your story—an invitation that’s hard to refuse. Here are a few of my favorites:

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist”

Circe by Madeline Miller

“My father was killed on a spring night four years ago, while I sat in the corner booth of a new bistro in Oakland”

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

“In the middle of my marriage, when I was above all Hugh’s wife and Dee’s mother, one of those unambiguous women with no desire to disturb the universe, I fell in love with a Benedictine monk”

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

Who knows, maybe you’ll even get lucky and come up with something as memorable as “Call me Ishmael” or “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks. If you have a question for the editor, please email Betty Sargent.