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Arts & Entertainment

First Lines

James Patterson

Lesson time 9:41 min

Grab your reader's attention quickly and make them hold on for dear life. James shares his tips for getting your reader hooked from the very first line.

James Patterson
Teaches Writing
James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.


I don't want to over stress the importance of first lines. It's just that they can really give you an advantage. You're reaching out from that book, grabbing a hold of that reader, and sucking them right into your book-- or not. And if you pull them right in, you've got them. You've got that agent. You've got that editor. You've got your reader. Suck them right in, and insofar as if they're staying right there and you haven't pulled them at all, you probably lost them. If you get them this far, that's probably good too. OK, there now, I'm leaning. I'm leaning with you. You know, so far, so good. So far, so good works. That's OK. If the reader is going, OK, yeah, what happens next? I'm cool with it. And sometimes it is just like, boom, I am in hook, line, and sinker. And that's the best. Especially trying to sell that first novel. Here we are again. The dreaded first page-- what to do about it. A really terrific sportswriter name Red Smith, and he said writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. So that's kind of what that first page is about. Obviously one of the keys is just the first line. Along Came A Spider-- first Alex Cross book-- starts, "Early on the morning of December 21, 1992, I was the picture of contentment on the sun porch of our house on 5th Street in Washington, D.C." That was my first line. Yeah, it gives you a lot of information. Not a great first line, but, you know, I'm-- so far, I'm OK. I'm getting into it. You've Been Warned, which was a horror book, the first line there in the prologue, "It's way too early in the morning for dead people." Once again, give me an idea of what kind of book it is. Private series about a private investigation company and a relatively young guy that runs it. And the first line is, "To the best of my understandably shaky recollection, the first time I died, it went something like this." That's a pretty cool first line actually if I do give myself some credit. In Kiss The Girls, the first line is, "For three weeks, the young killer actually lived inside the walls of an extraordinary 15 room beach house." For me, I'm there. The idea of somebody living in my house-- a killer inside the walls-- and what you'll find out in the next couple of chapters is the people are in the house while he's living inside the walls. That's very dramatic. It's very scary. It would scare the pants out of most readers. And if it happened in real life, it'd really scared the hell out of you. I always feel that if I haven't given them something in the first chapter, it's bad news. I have to have grabbed them a bit. Maximum Ride-- once again, in terms of what you can do in a scene. We open up with children, and they range from seven years old to 14 or 15. They're running like banshees, they're esca...

About the Instructor

James Patterson, the author of 19 consecutive No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, reveals his tricks of the trade. In his first online writing class, he guides you from the start to the finish of your book.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I'm going to love this class! I'm hoping to get past the paralyzing thoughts of "I have absolutely nothing to say ..." Thanks, James Patterson!

I enjoyed the first class but I lost my connection and am having difficulty getting the class back again.

I thought I knew a lot about writing but the James Patterson lectures taught me so much more. His advice has helped me to write better than before.

The lessons on dealing with writer's block and outlining were the most helpful for me. But, really, the entire course was inspiring and educational.



This is incredible. I learned more about writing in ten minutes than a year :)

Dale U.

I now know how important that first line can be. To quote Ernest Hemingway, "Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit at the typewriter and bleed." When I can establish a first name basis with Roger at the blood bank I'll know that I've made it.

A fellow student

I cannot locate the outline for "The Honeymoon." It sounds as if it's been uploaded for our reference, but I'm not seeing it anywhere. Help? Thanks.


Patterson's lessons so far are extremely useful - right up there with Sorkin and Rhimes. They reinforce each other's lessons. I'd keep going but it's already 12:30am, but will resume and finish the class tomorrow. Highly recommend Patterson. Even the dreaded Writers' Block chapter was special because he gave actionable - and hence optimistic - advice.

Biman N.

the link to the Office Hours video of the critique of the first lines is not working...

Dan U.

Yes....yes. I’ll never forget the beginning of Schindler’s List; the music playing in a small or quaint venue...the German elite Nazi hierarchy gathered at round inviting tables, some men in a back room observing Alfred Schindler curious as to who this well dressed seemingly handsome man is, a woman going from table to table with her her camera with the huge flash attached, her accent indicative of an eastern Europe an, young, some people dancing if I recall and an esteemed Nazi official and likely his much younger mistress are being lead to a table by a host. Schindler beckons a waiter to bring a $750.00. Dollar bottle of wine to the table of the newly arriving guests. The much older man said to his likely mistress..’oh your voice, Mishka...I would give anything to hear you sing.’ The mood, characters and visuals are set. You forget where you are and you want to find out where this is going. You soon will and you likely wish you hadn’t....

Michael B.

I was thinking about JP’s comment about be invested in the character if you kill them off in the first chapter. I recently saw the HBO series “Chernobyl “, that opens with the hero/protagonist committing suicide. Even though it’s not fiction I wanted to find out his story - though I didn’t know much about him.

A fellow student

Very helpful. Many books I have read use something odd, painfull, or a death that intriques me. James has given me not hints but the mindset to try this out. Thanks, James patterson

Larry K.

Provided a couple of great insights and examples that really made the point. Thanks.

Tanya H.

This is my first line of my new book called Mirror Beauty Comes with a Price, it is the second book of the Mirror series. 1. Megan awoke and found herself in a small rustic room she was lay on a cot. A woman in a forest ranger’s uniform was standing over her. 2. Megan awoke and found herself in rustic room after the fight with the vampiress. 3. Megan wondered where she was, as she looked around the unfamiliar room. 4. After the fight with the vamiress and being knocked out cold, Megan awoke in a strange rustic room where she lay on a cot. A woman in a forest ranger’s uniform was standing over her. I think I like number four the best. This was a good assignment, it helped me come up with a better opening line for my book.