Where to Begin: Writing Great First Lines

19 Aug

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

Every story has a beginning; some are bad, some are good, and some are downright amazing. And it all starts with your first line.

Last week, we looked at our worst first lines. And you could tell that they weren’t working. So, what is key to writing that brilliant first line? How do you start writing when the first line is so all-important?

Well, it’s simple; just write. If you haven’t started writing a new manuscript because you don’t know how to start it (first lines are very daunting), just start writing. Even if it’s a scene that takes place later, once you’ve got one sentence down, the rest comes a bit easier. First lines aren’t necessarily born; they aren’t always the first things you write. Most of the time, that great first line you can be proud of comes after you’ve finished your manuscript; and after multiple revisions. So, don’t make first lines the first thing you stress over; make it one of the last. Then again, sometimes you start writing knowing only your first line. Just try not to think too much about it until you get to the revision stage. But regardless of where in your MS you are, I thought we could look at what makes a good first line.

It’s always intimidating when you try to think of (or edit) your first line. After all, it is the first thing people will read! It’s common knowledge that you should try to hook your reader in the first page; and some authors are able to do that with their first sentence. So, how can you achieve that awesome opening sentence that will make people want to read more right away?

Read.

Wordle: First Lines

Grab some books off your bookshelf and check out their first lines. Find your favourite ones and read those first sentences. What makes them so effective?

What you’ll probably notice is that they are:

  • Short, sweet, and simple
  • Set the tone of the story
  • Raise questions and/or shock you
  • Have a very compelling and clear voice

What you might also notice is that the first and second lines work in tandem together. So don’t stress about trying to put everything into one sentence. If it works better in two sentences, split them into two.

Here are some examples:

Short & Sweet:

Keeping it simple has always been a good tip when writing. It prevents overwriting, and gets straight to the point. Keeping it short also makes readers interested in learning more, and their eyes will quickly move to the second line.

~

She learns pain early.” – Anchee Min, Becoming Madame Mao

You can’t get much simpler than this. It’s short and sweet; and best of all, it catches your attention. You immediately ask, “Why?” So don’t feel that you need to overwrite your first sentence; sometimes the simpler it is, the better.

This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” – Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Solider

Again, this is pretty simple. And this sentence also begs the question, “Why?” – We, as readers, want to know why and how the story is sad. It is effective, simple, and straight to the point. This line is also a great example of setting the tone of the rest of the novel.

Juniper was different from us.” – Monica Furlong, Wise Child

Yet another short and simple sentence. Reading this, I wanted to know, “Who is Juniper, and how is she different?”. This sentence also introduces a character in a way that is interesting.

Shock Factor:

Let’s face it; shocking people works. As does asking questions. When you throw something in that is so wrong, or grotesque, or strange, or uncanny, or terrifying, you get people’s attention. Be bold; make eyebrows raise. Do something so crazy that it catches your reader’s eye.

~

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – Geroge Orwell, 1984

This opening line immediately makes you pause. Clocks striking thirteen? When you think of clocks striking any number, chances are you’re thinking of a traditional round clock, with it’s hands pointing to the time; not a digital or 24-hour clock. You picture Big Ben striking midnight; but what do you picture when the author throws in something completely strange? Well, you end up intrigued. Orwell hooks you right from the get-go by shocking you.

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” – Albert Camus, The Stranger

Quite possibly my favourite opening line ever. Just brilliant. This is definitely shocking when you read it. It can be interpreted so many ways; is he heartless? Or is he in such shock that time no longer matters? Whatever your initial reaction to this opening (which is, I know, two sentences – which you can do!), you know that you’re immediately hooked and want to know more. Plus, it sets the tone for the rest of the novel beautifully, and has a great voice.

Setting the Tone:

The tone of your MS can be set in different ways; it can be in the description of the setting, or in the voice of a character, or perhaps just with a simple statement. Regardless of what direction you go, setting the tone allows you to create an atmosphere that entrances your reader.

~

I was sixteen years old the day I was lost in the forest, sixteen the day I met death.” – Martine Leavitt, Keturah and Lord Death

There is a lot of great stuff going on in this first sentence. It makes you ask questions, and is definitely shocking; it introduces you to character, and has a wonderful voice; and it sets the tone for the rest of the novel. I don’t know how anyone can read this sentence and not want to keep reading!

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” – Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

I am a huge fan of this opening sentence. It’s still pretty short and sweet (definitely not a long winding sentence), and it gets to the point. It sets the tone; it seems that Katniss, throughout The Hunger Games, is left in the cold (in a way). She is left looking for warmth, but she is also wary of it. It just seems to me to be a wonderful first line to an amazing book. It makes you ask questions, and is a bit scary; as is a lot of what happens in the novel.

Narrator’s Voice:

If your MS has a great and compelling voice, use it for your first line. Great and interesting characters will always hook  your readers. If you can make your character come to life in that first sentence, your readers will connect with your character right then and there; and will want to keep reading as a result.

~

If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

Chuck Palahniuk is great when it comes to capturing a narrator’s voice. The voice is so clear and intriguing and full of character; and he accomplishes this in only eight words.

~

The first line is definitely something you want to be aware of when you write (but not too aware!). It should, at some point during your revision process, be given quite a bit of thought. Some might argue that the first line is even more important than your title! So remember: be bold, be brave, and be clear. Get people’s feedback; maybe someone will point out another line you’ve written that would work much better as a first line. Don’t be afraid to keep it short; as seen above, short and sweet can be incredibly effective, and will get people itching to read your second sentence. Don’t be afraid to shock people, or get them asking questions; don’t be afraid to introduce your characters right off the bat, or set the tone with a descriptive line. But be sure to give your first line some attention; after all, it IS the first impression your readers will get. And you want that impression to be lasting.

~

Tomorrow, we’ll be answering the QOTW regarding our favourite first lines; and hopefully, you’ll share some favourites too!

Today, though, I thought we could share first lines we’ve written ourselves.
To start us off, I’ll share mine:
In the darkness before Dawn, our people, the Ane’a, were born.”

So, what are the first lines of your MSS?

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

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114 Responses to “Where to Begin: Writing Great First Lines”

  1. Kim August 19, 2010 at 12:29 AM #

    “Sophie brought the rim of the teacup to her lips, poised to sip.”

    A shocker, I know. Haha!

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 8:51 AM #

      Hahaha! 😛

      Well, it DOES introduce character – and I just love the visual that comes to mind when I read “poised to sip” – lovely!

  2. Summer August 19, 2010 at 1:15 AM #

    “Tonight was not like other nights.”

    I have yet to come up with a clever opening line… xP

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 8:52 AM #

      Well, it is short and sweet – and begs the question, “Why is tonight different?”

      There is an air of mystery surrounding your first line!

  3. Nicole August 19, 2010 at 1:19 AM #

    The tune of Pomp and Circumstance brought on another wave of guilt.

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 9:02 AM #

      Ooooh! Intriguing! Without specifically doing so, you’ve introduced character (we already know what he/she is feeling), and it definitely makes me ask questions (why guilt?)

      • Nicole August 20, 2010 at 2:10 AM #

        Isn’t that what everyone feels during high school graduation? 🙂

  4. priscillashay August 19, 2010 at 1:27 AM #

    erm… :/

    “Lady Whitney makeshift ballroom shone brilliantly as salient two-tiered chandeliers floated along the spine of the ceiling illuminating its contours”

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 9:31 AM #

      I think this is a good lead off… it makes me wonder why there’s a lady in a balloon floating along the ceiling, but it might be too wordy?

      • authorguy August 19, 2010 at 9:34 AM #

        Balloon?

      • priscillashay August 19, 2010 at 10:50 AM #

        oops, sorry forgot the ‘s. It’s “Lady Whitney’s makeshift ballroom…”

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 9:39 AM #

      You don’t seem to think your first line is good (that’s what I take your “erm” as)! It might be a bit long, but I think there is something about descriptive first lines that can be beautiful. They are great ways to introduce the setting, and to set the tone of your story.

      I love the “along the spine of the ceiling” – that is just SO good! Such a great visual!

      • priscillashay August 19, 2010 at 11:00 AM #

        Thanks Vanessa! My original first line was dialogue. But, I’ve since reworked the plot and it doesn’t fit anymore.

        @Savannah: It IS a bit wordy, but I think that fits the genre more. And the description contrasts the rest of the paragraph:

        “Beneath each candle, teardrop crystals trickled down and swayed in the gentle breeze flowing across the room from the open terrace doors. But, all the candles and jewels of England could not brighten the shadowed countenance of William Somerset, Duke of Blackridge who stood stoically in the far corner observing the guests as they milled about the room, ignorant to the encroaching dangers. “

        • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 1:13 PM #

          I’m actually not a huge fan of dialogue as the opening line – I’m not sure why. I don’t HATE it, but most of the time I don’t find it all that effective. But it can be, if done correctly – it’s just not my cup of tea. So I’m personally glad that you’ve changed your opening line! 😀

  5. Link August 19, 2010 at 2:15 AM #

    “The dark tower pierced the heavy, clouded sky as an arrow impales flesh.”

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 9:31 AM #

      Is it bad that I immediately thought, ‘phallic symbol!’ ?

      • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 1:06 PM #

        OMG! I didn’t think that at all! (But now that you mention it….)

        I love the imagery though!

        • Link August 19, 2010 at 6:00 PM #

          @Savannah: It’s not bad at all. Even I couldn’t help but laugh when you mentioned it.

  6. tymcon August 19, 2010 at 5:01 AM #

    That was an awesome post.
    “Orla frowned at the annoying girl in her maths class”.
    (cough, cough)
    Yes I know it’s bad:P The whole scene needs work. It’s one of those scenes that are just there. It doesn’t really do anythingXD
    Anyway I have abit of a question, wich i’m not entirely sure whether i should be asking here…
    I’ll plough through and if i make people mad, feel free to hire Chuck Norris.
    I notice I write for longer when i’m listening to music, but my writing suffers, including characters, (and i get the strangest inflated view of my writing, i don’t know why), i’m not entirely sure which one i enjoy more. So should i plough through and then edit, or should i take my time?

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 9:32 AM #

      Like Vanessa said, there’s plenty of time to edit the first sentence into perfection 🙂

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 9:51 AM #

      Thanks Tim! 😀 I’m glad you liked it!

      I’ve had a lot of first sentences (or scenes… or entire chapters) that are just… there. So don’t worry too much – you’ll have time to go back and think up something brilliant! I know I still write scenes or lines that are just terrible – I wrote one recently, and had to sleep on it for a few days before I realized I needed to change it. But I’m glad you still shared!

      It DOES set the scene, though – and introduce character.

      As for your question… Well, I’m a firm believer or getting your first draft done, and then going back to revise. Revisions are so integral to the writing process; And once you’ve spent time away from some chapters, you’ll be able to go back and see what needs fixing, what can go, etc etc.

      Personally, I can only listen to wordless music if I’m writing – and most of the time, I don’t listen to anything. There are some days where I feel like I need to trudge through a scene I’m writing, and others where it just comes so naturally. Even if you take your time writing, you’ll still need to go back and edit; so just do what you personally prefer. I can’t outline, for example – it kills the writing process for me. Of course, I always have a rough outline in my head – but writing a detailed outline doesn’t work for me. So I don’t want to tell you that you should do this as opposed to that – honestly, keep writing, and you’ll figure out what works better for you. Test different things out. You need to learn what type of writer you are.

      I hope that makes sense (And is somewhat helpful!).

  7. Laura E. Wardle August 19, 2010 at 6:42 AM #

    Tucked into the crook of a low camel-coloured couch by the radiator, Grace was reading a paperback, when the door of the coffee shop—Georgie’s—opened, admitting a rush of cold air and a tall, blonde-haired girl with a holdall strapped across her chest, dragging a large suitcase behind her.

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 9:33 AM #

      What’s a holdall? I’m very keen to know why it would be strapped across a girl’s chest 😄

      • Laura E. Wardle August 19, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

        Oh, it’s like a sports bag–just an English term, I guess. That’s what we call it at least.

  8. Laura E. Wardle August 19, 2010 at 6:45 AM #

    Also:

    Strobing lights played across the dance floor, casting Elspeth Arden and her best friend, Katriel, in a multitude of colours, as they swayed.

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 9:33 AM #

      I took a girl to a Homecoming dance once… as friends. We totally slow danced together though, because why the hell not, and from thereafter I had to fight off lesbian rumors 😦

      Anyway… what I’m saying is… I love it!

  9. Launo August 19, 2010 at 7:47 AM #

    Very helpful post! Some of the first lines posted are amazing. I’m too embarrassed to post mine. They’re definitely not simple or compelling.

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 9:54 AM #

      I’m glad you found the post helpful!

      And I totally agree – there are some great first lines posted!

      Hopefully, over time, you’ll feel more comfortable sharing (I know it took ME a long time! Heck, I was a bit embarrassed about sharing MY first line in this post! :p)

      First lines can be so hard to rewrite, too, because you get so attached to them.

  10. Jill Jones August 19, 2010 at 8:09 AM #

    “I am not the kind of person who wakes up and jumps out of bed immediately.”

    “On June 19th, he would have been thirty-eight years old. He would be a man now. And on the day that he would have turned thirty-eight years old, I stood in the same lake that took him from us for the first time in the twenty-one years that he has been gone.”

    Great post … one I will return to in the future, I’m sure.

    • Vanessa August 26, 2010 at 10:18 AM #

      Oh no, I can’t believe I missed this comment (so sorry!!)

      Your first line has a great voice. I really like when characters describe themselves by saying what type of people they’re not.

      Your second opening is absolutely heartbreaking. I really do love it; there is just something so haunting about starting off with your character talking about someone who has died. And the visual of you character standing on the lake is incredibly vivid, even with no imagery to support it.

      I’m really glad you enjoyed this post! 😀

  11. Ereza August 19, 2010 at 9:09 AM #

    “The clockwork movements held her in place.”

    This a great post, starting any where when you write is a good place 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 9:34 AM #

      Ooh, I like this. Is she trapped in a clock? Steampunk?

      • Ereza August 19, 2010 at 10:29 AM #

        Thanks 🙂 I’m not sure what genre it is yet, it’s a strange world based off a what if question I’m tugging at (especially since it takes place in a sort of blurry line betweeen two worlds.) As for where she is – a tower she wanted to climb but specifically hugging the clock face on it lol.

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 9:54 AM #

      I really love your first line; I immediately want to know more!

      • Ereza August 19, 2010 at 10:37 AM #

        Thanks! 🙂

  12. authorguy August 19, 2010 at 9:15 AM #

    “They called him Thranj, which meant nothing, and he was a god, which meant everything.” – Unbinding the Stone (prolog) I have a sentimental attachment to the first line of chapter 1 but it’s not a great line.

    “Tarkas was running for his life. Again.” – A Warrior Made (chapter 1)

    “The game was afoot. The hunters hunted, the prey prayed.” – St. Martin’s Moon (chapter 1). St. Martin’s Moon has a prolog that starts “The Moon is not a dead world.”

    “Sudden, lethal, and complete.” – Noisemaker (WIP)

    “Anzarel the GlassMage lowered himself to look out the window, and observed the world around him.” – Undermind

    “The explosion didn’t surprise him.” – Ex Libris

    I have a lot of stories out there. And some of them have prologues.

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 9:58 AM #

      First lines are always hard to rewrite for me; I always get so attached to the ones I’ve written!

      My favourites are the prologue for Unbinding the Stone, and the one for Noisemaker. The first one has such a great voice; and introduces such an interesting character! The Noisemaker line makes me want to read the line following it; you’ve used very strong words!

      Thanks for sharing! 😀

      • authorguy August 19, 2010 at 10:15 AM #

        Thanks for the post, it’s a great topic and so many great first lines!

        I wrote the Thranj line off the cuff, after seeing the original prolog first line and how utterly awful it was. That first line became the next paragraph of the prolog. Thranj doesn’t appear in the book, though. He makes a choice which sets off everything that follows.
        The first line of chapter 1 is “Tarkas paused on the forest trail as he became aware of the sound of voices raised in Song.” I’ve never changed it, in all revisions and edits. This is the line that popped into my head when I first thought about writing a book based on my dream.
        Noisemaker line 2 is “Triple-S made that verdict, and Triple-S quarantined the planet because of it. “

  13. Jess August 19, 2010 at 9:15 AM #

    “Today is the first birthday I don’t have to share.”

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 10:00 AM #

      This is a great use of your narrator’s voice. I want to know exactly what your character means by “share”, because there are so many interpretations that you can make of it.

  14. Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 9:24 AM #

    “He was running out of chances.”

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

      This is terrible.

      Haha, I’m kidding!! I love how short and sweet it is (unlike mine :p). There is a lot of suspense and tension surrounding your first line!

      • Sarah J. Maas August 19, 2010 at 3:11 PM #

        lolol, I just laughed so hard.

    • Sarah J. Maas August 19, 2010 at 3:10 PM #

      That is the worst opening line I’ve ever read.

      • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 3:44 PM #

        I’m going to bash your opening lines so hard from now on.

  15. Vee August 19, 2010 at 10:00 AM #

    “Callie is an emotional rollercoaster I don’t want to ride anymore.”

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 1:16 PM #

      Love the voice and introduction of character in this one! Definitely sets the tone 😀

  16. Vee August 19, 2010 at 10:02 AM #

    AND, I forgot to say, NICE POST V. Love the first lines you shared above. Especially CHOKE. That’s one of my favourite openings ever 😀

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 10:38 AM #

      Thanks Vee!

      I knew I had to use the the opening line for CHOKE – I love it as well! It’s SO good! FIGHT CLUB also has a great first line 😛

  17. Kayleigh August 19, 2010 at 10:10 AM #

    Very interesting post, Vanessa 🙂

    Evolution of the first sentence from my first completed novel, Kenna’s Choice:

    First it was this: “I’d be lying if I said I felt safe around him.”

    Then it became this: “When I woke up this morning, I felt an asthma attack coming.”

    Finally this: “Aura’s voice in my head tells me to calm down.”

    My critique partner helped me change it to what it is now. (Thank you for creating a CPs page–that’s how I got my critique partner :).)

    And here’s the first line of my current novel, The Way Wars are Won: “Morana had spent the past five years hunting down a vampire who belonged to his tribe or pack, or whatever they called it, so she wasn’t about to let this vampire escape. She just hoped she was right.”

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 1:21 PM #

      Thanks Kayleigh!

      I LOVE that you’ve included the evolution of your opening line! I love how your current first line throws the reader right in – it gets so many questions popping into your reader’s mind!

      And we’re so happy to know that the CPs page is working out so well! 😀

      The second line (from your current WIP) is so different! There is such a strong voice, which always draws readers in!

  18. Sam August 19, 2010 at 10:19 AM #

    This was a cool post! I actually find the first lines the most fun, but have the hardest time seeing my tales through to the end. So needless to say, I’ve got a lot of first-lines. Here’s the one I’m working on at the mo:

    “Believe me now when I tell you, because you might not once you hear the details.”

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 1:24 PM #

      Thanks Sam! Glad you liked it!

      I love first lines too; even for each chapter, I’ve always loved figuring out how to start each one.

      Your current first line has such a great voice! And it’s very mysterious.

  19. CA Marshall August 19, 2010 at 10:24 AM #

    “I am so going to Hell for this.”

    🙂

    Did you not include “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” because everyone already knows it? Also, Harry Potter has an interesting first line: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

    Okay, that’s two… but still, it get those brain gears moving!

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 3:02 PM #

      Yeah, the opening line to Pride and Prejudice is pretty well-known. I tried to steer clear of a lot of the really well-known first lines. Camus and Ford still made it, but I’m really in love with those lines.

      Harry Potter’s opening line is interesting; but the very first time I read HP, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. When I tried reading it again, 3 years later, I told myself to at least read 1/3 of the book before giving up; good thing I did, because I’ve been in love with HP ever since! The narrator’s voice in the first line of HP is VERY strong, which I adore.

      Your first line has SUCH a great voice!

  20. Renee August 19, 2010 at 12:13 PM #

    Great post!!! 😀 Love it!

    I’m notoriously bad at first lines, but I managed to find two from my works that I actually wasn’t unhappy with! xD

    “Her first thought was that she was dead.”–Steel & Glass

    “The night was exceedingly cold, and dark, as most nights are. “–Avengers

    Keep up the great work, ya’ll!

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 3:05 PM #

      Thanks Renee! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! 😀

      The line for Steel & Glass is great! It makes me want to know more – why is that her first thought? What has happened? It definitely has a bit of shock value!

      The one for Avengers is just wonderful; there’s something about the narrator’s voice that I love.

      You should be super happy to have those as your opening lines! I really like them!

  21. Sarah J. Maas August 19, 2010 at 3:19 PM #

    First of all, BRILLIANT post, V!!!! I love how everyone is sharing their first lines, too–this is beyond awesome! 🙂

    First line from QUEEN OF GLASS:

    “Celaena Sardothien grimaced as the hooded man in black led her down corridors, up flights of stairs, then around and around until she hadn’t the slightest chance of finding her way out of the building.”

    ~

    First line from A FARAWAY LAND:

    “The night was hot and humid, and fireflies bobbed lazily amongst the hedges of the castle garden.”

    ~

    First line from HADES:

    “War was what I wanted.”

    ~

    First line from A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES:

    “I squeezed my eyes shut against the cold, and took a moment of precious relief in the darkness.”

    ~

    And then this is the first line from a super-secret ms that I wrote last autumn:

    “Years later, everyone would claim the wind that night carried with it a hint of dragon breath.”

    Dun dun dunnnnn…

    Thanks again for such a great article, V! It was so fun!!!!!!

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 3:47 PM #

      All your opening lines suck, and will suck forever.

      • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 4:00 PM #

        LOLOLOL

      • Sarah J. Maas August 19, 2010 at 4:02 PM #

        It’s a good thing I don’t live near you, because I would totally come to your house and beat your ass.

    • Vanessa August 19, 2010 at 4:05 PM #

      Okay… so, I am seriously in love with your first line from HADES. ❤ It is SO GOOD!

      And a super secret MS! Oh my! EXCITING!

      And thanks Sarah! I'm so happy people are sharing their first lines! I have such a fascination with opening lines (which is why I try to include them in my recommendations).

      I'm excited for tomorrow – sharing our fave first lines! Too bad I put mine in this post already (whoops!).

    • tymcon August 20, 2010 at 6:07 AM #

      I love the line from Hades. I got imagery of someone brooding and looking out a window for soem strange reason, but it was awesome:P
      I like the last line. For some strange reason it kind of reminded me of Robert Jordan or Tolkien.

      • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 11:04 AM #

        It’s the voice that does it for me with Hades. It is so strong, and ominous – very dark!

        With the last one, I love the story-telling aspect of it!

  22. authorguy August 19, 2010 at 3:24 PM #

    In the first two stories of my Chasing His Own Tale series, the hero, Author Guy (no relation) starts out a new story with the first line, and invariably gets interrupted. The first story started with “It was a dark and stormy night”, the second had “If I’d known he was going to kill me I’d have killed him first.” But those are for the story within the story.

    • Savannah J. Foley August 19, 2010 at 3:53 PM #

      Sounds self-conscious, like the Thursday Next series. I /love/ those books!

      • authorguy August 19, 2010 at 4:02 PM #

        The series is about an author trying to write a story, and dealing with all the various character archetypes in the process: Creative Muse, Fearless Hero (from the FHA), Evil Enchantress (from the VU), Yellow-Haired Panther (from the CCM), and her boyfriend Second Rate (from the ARC). I was trying to write a comic short story and came over all John Lennon-ish.

  23. Joana August 19, 2010 at 4:33 PM #

    Well, I have three.

    From Artistic License (my querying novel): “The smell of turpentine and paint mixed with an old turkey sandwich gave the art studio an odd smell.”

    From Memories (my WIP): “I’m going blind.”

    From I Heard It On The Radio (the novel I wrote for JulNoWriMo): “My mother was one of the most listened-to people in our town.”

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:14 AM #

      I really like the line from Memories!

  24. Joan August 19, 2010 at 4:37 PM #

    Mine is, “On the day we saved our first beast, it was my turn and the waiting was over.”
    It’s pretty ambiguous but I explain in the next sentences.

    I think that in classics, first lines were important and practically defined the novel. Wherever I see the opening lines of books such as Tom Sawyer, Catcher in the Rye, Little Women, Harry Potter and others, I simply know which book they are.
    But books nowadays just start… normally? They simply begin the story and aren’t very memorable.
    But I always think that first lines are SO important. It just takes time to find the right ones 😛

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:19 AM #

      Your first line sets the tone, has a great voice, and is very intriguing – you’ve thrown your reader right into the story, which is great.

      A lot of books don’t have amazing first lines these days; I agree. But there are some that do, and it’s great! The opening lines of a lot of classics are very long, though – which was just the style of writing.

  25. Harmony August 19, 2010 at 4:41 PM #

    Tada!

    The Afrin Highlands were nestled deep in the corners of her land, untouched and hidden behind bare trees and twisted branches.

    That’s the first line! Yay? Nay?

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:24 AM #

      I love the part “untouched and hidden behind bare trees and twisted branches” – it definitely paints a great image in my mind! I suppose I was expecting lush trees – bare trees and twisted branches is much more ominous (though I’m not sure if that’s what you’re intending). I also love the word “nestled” – it’s such a great word!

      • Harmony August 20, 2010 at 9:55 AM #

        YES! Ominous, that’s exactly what I was going for. Whew, yay!

        • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 11:02 AM #

          Woo! 😀

          It’s great, because “nestled” seems like such a soft, comforting word – and then you throw in the “twisted” branches – it’s a juxtaposition that throws me off, but in a good way! It’s intriguing!

  26. Olga August 19, 2010 at 5:01 PM #

    “Why is there a fish in the bathtub?”

    I love starting my stories with dialogue. It just seems more natural for me.

    • Julia August 19, 2010 at 6:59 PM #

      Personally, this is my favorite one yet.

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:20 AM #

      Dialogue is a good way of introducing character, and giving the first line a distinctive voice.

  27. Gaby da Silva August 19, 2010 at 6:19 PM #

    “The man walked onto the stage wearing a habit such as the ones wise hermits wore in chivalry stories.”

    Still polishin’ ~~

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:32 AM #

      I actually LOVE the way you’ve worded it – it’s so lyrical! The “wearing a habit” part is so good!!!

  28. Armith-Greenleaf August 19, 2010 at 6:28 PM #

    Changing Madeline:

    “Really?”

    Alright, this chick was annoying him.

    (I’m considering getting rid of the “Really?” because a lot of readers tell me the following line is the one that packs the punch. I like the ambiguity of the seemingly misplaced “Really?” because it shows just how little attention the character is paying to the date he’s with. Thoughts?)

    WIP1:

    He scratched the side of his butt cheek with a hand; the other one was busy supporting his weight against the mouldy wall.

    WIP2:

    His hand balled into a fist.


    Wait, wait. Two stories start with hands? lol

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:42 AM #

      Hands make for great visuals!

      For Changing Madeline, I think I would get rid of the “Really?” – I love ambiguity myself, but for your first line, I think you should start with the following line. It introduces character, has a strong voice, and is much more memorable.

      • Armith-Greenleaf August 20, 2010 at 5:00 PM #

        Indeed, that’s what I’ve been told about. Thank you! Also, I’d forgotten a vital part of my reply: Fabulous post! It was a very creative way to explain the importance of first lines. Great job! 😀

        • Vanessa August 26, 2010 at 10:14 AM #

          Thanks!!!! I’m so glad that people found this post so helpful! 😀

  29. Myra August 19, 2010 at 6:35 PM #

    “One false step and Arashel would tumble off the branch and to her death. Well, maybe. The tree she’d climbed all the way up to, all the way to the little branches, wasn’t the tallest in the forest.”

    From a still-untitled WIP.

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:45 AM #

      I like that your opening line starts with a bit of tension – it makes for a great opening visual.

  30. Julia August 19, 2010 at 7:00 PM #

    Here’s mine. Can’t decide if I like it. Haven’t begun revising at all yet. Actually, it’s 3 fragmented lines, so I’m cheating:

    Special. What a word. Like biting into a cupcake and realizing it’s laced with denatonium.

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:50 AM #

      I like that you’ve got three fragmented lines! I don’t consider that cheating at all – it makes the narrator’s voice very compelling – I can hear the way your character is saying that. I’ll be honest – I love the first two parts (the “Special” and “What a word”), but I’m not crazy about the third line. You haven’t started revising though, and I’m already in love with the first 2 parts!

  31. MRSanner August 19, 2010 at 7:24 PM #

    Here’s the opening line to my WIP:

    I looked down at the body of a dead boy whose Death had lead me through the skeletal woods with a macabre game of hot and cold.

    It’s not perfect but it is essentially what I want the opening to be.

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 9:56 AM #

      I really like the first half – “I looked down at the body of a dead boy” – that is SO intriguing! The second half loses me a bit (I suppose with the “game of hot and cold”). I think I would like it more if you used “in” instead of “with” – like this: “through the skeletal woods in a macabre game of hot and cold.”

      Just my opinion, though! I am still absolutely in love with the first half – it sets the tone SO WELL! I also love that Death is capitalized – that in itself is very intriguing (and I’m assuming a part of the plot).

  32. jenn fitzgerald August 19, 2010 at 7:38 PM #

    Great post Vanessa! And good points that I need to keep in mind when I’m revising. I really like your first line, it reads like the opening of a myth and feels like something that should be said be someone sitting beside a fire.

    Here’s two of my opening lines
    PRISCILLA THE EVIL: “Priscilla Martin knew three things with the same absolute certainty with which a troll tells you the toll for its bridge.”

    THE OPAL FOX: “When I was a girl, I cried and the sky cried with me.”

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

      Aww, thanks Jenn! My original first line was, “I have never seen the sky”, but that line has been moved somewhere else. Danae is a lover of the old stories, and I wanted it to have a mythological feel to it. I’m glad you think it does! 😀

      Priscilla has such a great voice – and it really sets the tone. But I am absolutely in love with your opening line for The Opal Fox – it is wonderful!

      • jenn fitzgerald August 20, 2010 at 11:45 PM #

        I think I’m a fan of Danae already! 🙂

        Thanks V, I’m pretty fond of those lines 😀 They’re the ones that actually seem to be working

  33. Bryan August 19, 2010 at 9:01 PM #

    ooo, thanks! This helps a lot. I usually have the hardest starting my article. The starting sentence has always been my hardest. gonna try writing again. Thanks!

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 10:51 AM #

      Thanks! Glad you found this helpful! 😀

  34. Brigid Kemmerer August 19, 2010 at 10:15 PM #

    Great post! Here’s mine, from my WIP:

    The self defense class had been a waste of sixty bucks.

    • Julia August 19, 2010 at 10:41 PM #

      Oh, I like this one too!

    • Sarah J. Maas August 19, 2010 at 10:41 PM #

      ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ Best line yet!!!!!!!!!!

  35. hayleighbird August 19, 2010 at 10:58 PM #

    I’m going to post my whole prologue because for me, the prologue of my WIP is kind of like the opening line. It’s short and to the point, and I hope it serves as a hook… Let me know what you think!

    “She was spinning out of control. The tires of her car screamed as she spun. Time seemed irrelevant. And then it passed in flashes. Her hair, whipping at her face as she flew. Then lying on the pavement, feeling cold. Suddenly a man, standing over her. Somehow the details of his face were so clear, despite the blur surrounding them. His wide, angular jaw, a light spattering of freckles across his nose, his concerned brown eyes. They almost made her feel warm. Almost.”

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 10:58 AM #

      So, I love this prologue. Especially the part where it “passes in flashes” – and “her hair, whipping at her face as she flew”. I also really like that you don’t use her name in this prologue – it makes the reader feel like an onlooker. It definitely makes me want to read more (but maybe I’m biased, since I already know what it’s about :P)!

  36. Kat Zhang August 19, 2010 at 11:16 PM #

    Okay, I’m sooo late to the game (college move in, sigh…), but here are my opening lines!!

    HYBRID: Adie and I were born into the same body, our souls’ ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath.

    THE POTTING SOIL CHILD: The City lights gave Clara’s skin a sallow, sickly tinge.

    My pet novella project: She stole it so quickly that John would have missed it had he not been hiding at the end of the aisle, watching her.

    I’m LOVING reading everyone else’s lines 😀 😀

    • Vanessa August 20, 2010 at 10:55 AM #

      Love the first line for Hybrid!

      The line for the Potting Soil Child paints such a vivid picture of her face – and it sets the tone beautifully!

      And love the action happening in your pet novella project! 😀

      I am so happy to see people sharing their lines! It’s so much fun to read!

  37. Aurora Blackguard August 20, 2010 at 11:39 AM #

    “Princesses look for princes, duchesses look for dukes, but queens, queens, my dear Melchior, are searched for by kings.”

    Exactly where it all started 🙂

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 11:08 PM #

      Love it!!! Such a great voice!

    • Savannah J. Foley August 23, 2010 at 12:18 PM #

      Ooh, I love it too. Instant love.

  38. Rowenna August 20, 2010 at 12:57 PM #

    These are so great to read! Totally late to the party, but the first line from December, the WIP:

    It was the volatile repetition that finally woke Vernon, rather than the noise of the siren itself.

    I’m still working on the first paragraph…the second gives me no trouble, but the first? Fits.

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 11:07 PM #

      I have an adult WIP that’s currently on the backburner – but the first paragraph gave me SO much trouble! I could never get it right.

      I love the “volatile repetition” in your opening line!

  39. Ella August 20, 2010 at 2:20 PM #

    “I was late to my own murder.”

    (AUUUUGH first lines. Right up there with titles and character names on my list of writing banes. >>)

    • Vanessa August 22, 2010 at 11:09 PM #

      Character names and titles are daunting, just like first lines!

      It’s an intriguing first line though – certainly has a distinctive voice!

  40. Susan August 23, 2010 at 3:42 PM #

    Wise Child! Oh wow, Juniper was my favorite book for YEARS growing up. I’m pretty sure the cover and first twenty or so pages are masking-taped on to the rest of the book.

    • Vanessa August 26, 2010 at 10:11 AM #

      OMG awesome!! I have never met anyone else who has read those books!

      To be honest, I picked them up because the cover illustrators are the same ones who did the covers for Garth Nix’s ABHORSEN trilogy!

      I’ve reread those books so many times now. But it’s been a few years… maybe it’s time to go back and reread them again!

  41. Lea Kaplan September 12, 2010 at 10:32 PM #

    I know I’m almost a month late, but I was out with Vanessa the other day and she told me to come back in and post my first line here. So I will.

    My current WIP:
    “The forest at night didn’t scare Alicia anymore.”

    But I’m also going to include the first line of the preface of another WIP that I have on a backburner right now – of which I only have a preface (that needs major reworking) and a first couple pages, and lots and lots of tangled thoughts:
    “I knew I wasn’t dead because I was thinking about not being dead.”

    The first line of the first couple pages of that one is:
    “The first few days after I died were the worst.”

  42. Saika October 5, 2011 at 8:55 PM #

    This is from about two months later, but could I get any opinions on my first line(s) of a few novels I’m working on/have been working on/wrote before?

    1.
    First line of the blog-post that happens before the first chapter:
    I don’t even know why I’m making a blog. I guess it’s because my sister won’t shut up about it until I do. So here you go, Mika. Happy now?

    First line of the first chapter:
    The proverbial ‘they’ has always declared that you should ‘look before you leap’, or, translated into modern context, ‘look left and right before you cross the road if you don’t want to be hit car and be turned into bloody pulp’.

    Umm…oh and…
    2.
    In the darkness of the disputable cave of the universe, many worlds (number unknown) bob like apples in water.

    aaand…

    3.
    The boy was running. His shirt and trousers were tearing on the thorny undergrowth. Trees beckoned with dry, wooden claws. Somewhere back inside the city, a bride sat nervously before a mirror and pondered over her wedding to the boy – due to begin in an hour.

    (That’s a paragraph isn’t it? :S)

    4.
    “What’s this, a bet?”

    5.
    “My name is Fantasy. I can make your dreams come true.”

    6.
    He glances towards the heavens, breathes in the cold, biting wind, and feels…nothing. Nothing at all.

    If I could get an opinion on any one of them, that would be lovely and wonderful and just great. (In bit of a gushy mood.)
    Found this site after stalking S.J.Maas’ fictionpress~ It’s awesome, guys! Keep it up!

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