First Sentences, First Minutes, First Seconds

This contest is now over! Thanks to all who entered!
Ned Vizzini Prize Pack, March 2013

⇑ That's the prize pack I'm offering for my contest: 1 House of Secrets advance copy (with special packaging), 1 Be More Chill, & 1 It's Kind of a Funny Story audiobook. All signed by me.

To enter, just retweet THIS LINK, which contains the first line of House of Secrets:

"Brendan Walker knew the house was going to be terrible."

I will pick one winner every week until April 19! Booksellers: you have preferential treatment because I like you. But other than that, winners chosen randomly!

WINNERS: 3/8 - @rlSPNfn; 3/15 - @theannieru; 3/22 - @NickGo; 3/29 - @rebeccajillian; 4/15 - @FluffingtonMan; 4/12 - @SammyStrikes; 4/17 - @AutumnElyzabeth
Ned Vizzini Prize Pack, 2 of 2

Now, I think a lot about first lines. I believe the most important thing about a book is its ending, because if a book starts off badly, but ends well, it leaves you redeemed and buoyant. But the second-most important thing is the first line.

Writers and booksellers may disagree and say that first lines are more important, because if your first line isn't good, the reader will never buy the book. But to that argument, I say...

Dragon Tattoo, people. Dragon Tattoo.

Girl with Dragon Tattoo

Have you ever met someone who's read Dragon Tattoo? They all say the strangest thing:

"Well, the first sixty pages are all about libel law in Sweden... BUT THEN IT GETS AMAZING."

What?! The first sixty pages were boring? How did you get through them? How did the book sell a gazillion copies? The answer lies in the hidden challenge of a book with a boring beginning, which is this:

If you're smart enough, you'll get through the boring part and find the book's special secrets.

Lord of the Rings works this way. Everyone agrees that Fellowship is bit slow... but by the time you get to The Two Towers, you can't put it down. And The Return of the King? Astounding! Oh, wait, you didn't get that far?

Well, maybe you're not the sort of person who can handle LOTR. Maybe you can read Narnia books, which are easier. You know, for children.

Prince Caspian Movie Poster

Maybe I sound bitter here. I'm not. I'm just pointing out that there are no Dragon Tattoo-style books in children's literature. YA and middle grade books from Alice and Wonderland on must deliver the goods quickly. (Remember, Alice goes down the rabbit hole on page one.)

In fact, in comparison to TV and film, books for young people have less room to breathe. You can start an episode of Breaking Bad with Walter White drinking a cup of coffee for 20 seconds. You can start a film with hominids sitting in a cave. Your audience has already committed to being there in some capacity.

A novel on a shelf in a bookstore has no such luxury. It is going to be picked up (because the cover isn't terrible), opened (because the summary looked ok), and sampled. And the sampling is going to begin on page one. So unless it's Dragon Tattoo or Lord of the Rings and its reputation proceeds it, page one better be good.

So in co-writing page one of House of Secrets, I learned from three people:

  1. Chris Columbus
    Chris established early on that we were going to end every chapter of House of Secrets on a cliffhanger. He'll tell you that when he wrote Gremlins, each scene was about topping the scene before. So if the first sentence is "Brendan knew the house was going to be terrible," that will force us to make the house really terrible.

    Gremlins German Poster

  2. Gordon Korman
    Gordon Korman isn't just a great writer, he's one of those people who can talk about writing. I saw him at an LATimes Book Festival three years ago talking about how his ideal reader, the one who's in his head judging as he writes, is an impatient 12-year-old boy saying, "C'mon, give it to me!"
    Gordon Korman, courtesy Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

  3. Joe Strummer
    In a similar vein, watch Joe Strummer talk about the Ramones:
    Joe Strummer Talking About the Ramones

    "I particularly learned that from the Ramones, that 'Slam! There's that number. Where's the next one?!' Because there's people watching and -- people've got things to do! It's a busy world out there -- give it to 'em!"

That's really all your first line has to do. Give it to 'em.


Oh man, my eyes are screaming in this post! I have been busy the past semester with nursing school and I only got the time to check your page just now. I am one of the winners of your House of Secrets book giveaway contest and I knew I had to join this one too. I don't know if you will still choose me as one of the winners of this contest but it's my dream right there in the box. I know I've said this before but your It's kind of a funny story really changed my life back when I was still a college freshman. I was about to quit college because I can't deal with my frustration and failures anymore but then I came across your book and it made me realized things. That audiobook of It's kind of a funny story with your "signature" in it, I madly,desperately want that. It would be such a dream come true if I will win this contest. Also, Be More Chill which I also really liked, and the House of Secrets which I am yet to read soon. This is just one hell of a package from such a fan like me.

But the decision is still yours alone, and I am to respect that. Anyway, thank you for liking my review of your Be More Chill on goodreads. Still, I am keeping my fingers crossed. Haha! Good Times, Mr. Vizzini!!
What is your name on Twitter? And do you live in the US?
my twitter name is @skyrocketedfame , and Mr.Vizzini I don't live in the US. Is this contest only for people residing in US? If that's the case then I'm sorry. I mustn't have noticed that. But anyway, thanks for replying! Good day!
This contest is over now, but the next one is going to be international, stay tuned!


Hi! I was one of the winners of the giveaway and I'm so excited!!! It's Kind of A Funny Story is one of my favorite books. I'm not sure how to give you my information for it to be sent to me. If you need to contact me, my email is and my twitter account is @rebeccajillian. Thanks a bunch!!!
Don't worry, I got your info and your prize is on its way.

April 2013

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