How Do Novelists Treat ...


We’ve been trained to craft a lead sentence that grabs the reader by the scruff of the neck.

It seems logical that the sooner you interest the reader, the better, especially in business communications where you don’t have the luxury of developing a narrative over 200 pages.

To test this theory, I looked at the websites of several novelists and how their personal bios kick off.

girl with dragon tattoo

With so much hoopla behind “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” I started with Stieg Larsson. Here’s the lead sentence of the bio that sits on

Stieg Larsson was born in Västerbotten in northern Sweden in 1954.

I’d call this perfunctory (to be kind).

Of course, Mr. Larsson passed away before his books were published, so he didn’t write the bio much less review the copy. Still, I think I’m on safe ground in saying Lisbeth expected better.

Let’s move on to Elmore Leonard. I loved “Get Shorty” – the book, not Travolta – and figured something fresh would start his bio.

Elmore Leonard was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, October 11, 1925.


Apparently, Mr. Leonard and the copywriter for Stieg Larsson went to the same bio class (although note the “boldness” of the Leonard biographer who added the actual month and day to the birth date).

And someone might want to share with Team Leonard that the “look and feel” of the website impacts the brand.

elmore leonard

OK, let’s go off-road with Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who might not be a household name, but wrote “The Shadows of the Wind,” which blew me away (couldn’t resist.)

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is the author of six novels, including the international phenomenon The Shadow of the Wind, and The Angel’s Game.

Very disappointing.

Talk about telling the reader something he or she already knows and doing it in an uninteresting way.

Last, we turn to John Grisham. I’ve read all of his novels including the recent “The Litigators.”

Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, he was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi, law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby-writing his first novel.

Thank you.

Finally, someone who writes the first sentence with something more than a noun and verb.

Note: If you enjoyed this post, the human bot recommends “Word Craft Column Offers Welcome Addition to Wall Street Journal.”

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