Monday, January 9, 2012

First Lines...and my Christmas surprise!

Let's face it. There are only so many avid readers out there. (It's a shame!) Even then, many of us have short attention spans when it comes to getting into a book. Too many turns of the page with a subconscious hope of something drawing us in soon, and before long, we give up. So why not start from the very first line and draw us in?

An opening line creates an impression and sets expectations. I’ve made a habit of taking note of the first line of every book I read. Santa was good to me this year…

Yep, I got a Kindle!! So I’ve been reading even more first lines lately as I try book samples. I examine each first line. I think about them. So many first lines fail to excite. That’s too bad. Even in best sellers or books I end up loving.
A solid first line intrigues us and makes us want to read more. What makes a solid first line (please comment!)? Here are a few ideas, with examples of first lines from books I’ve recently read, looked into, or found online:

• “For Dawson Cole, the hallucinations began after the explosion on the platform, on the day he should have died.” The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
• “Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls
• “Reporters had been circling the event for days now.” Home Again by Kristin Hannah

What explosion? Who should have died? What Event? What old crows?

• “Owen Blackthorne stepped into the Armadillo Bar and found trouble waiting for him.” The Texan by Joan Johnston (This also "makes me wonder")
• "When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news." Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
• “It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.” The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

• “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
• "Getting punched hard in the face is a singular experience." Godless by Pete Hautman (I sure hope it's singular!)
• "Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home to tea." The Death Collector by Justin Richards (love this)
• “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

If a killer first line is ideal for the first chapter of a novel, why not for every chapter throughout the entire work? I'd love your input on this one. Here are a few of the first lines from several chapters throughout my contemporary YA novel that are up for your assessment:

“I’m suddenly fighting to breathe.”
“When life gives you lemons, buy a Mountain Dew.”
“I shouldn’t do this, but I can’t help myself.”
“Pralines have never led me astray.”
“If my mom knew what I did tonight, she wouldn’t be too disappointed.”
“Let’s just say I’m doing the last thing I want to do on a summer night.”
“It happened on a sunny day in mid-March, eight years ago.”
“I regret the words even before I say them.”

Do they make you wonder what the next sentence will be? Which of the above first lines is your favorite? Least favorite? Are these first lines better than starting with weather, setting, a date, etc…? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  1. Good point about beginning at a pivotal moment! Neat blog:)

  2. My favorite first lines of yours is "I shouldn't do this, but I can't help myself." Do what? Oh no! What's going to happen!?

    I just read a YA book called "Feed" and the first line definitely caught my attention. Here it is: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." Such a teenage thing to say. How could the moon possibly suck? How could you take going into outer space so lightly - so flippantly?

    Great post!

  3. Thanks, Mark! And Em, I LOVE that first line! Hilarious! I'll have to look at Feed on Goodreads.

    1. I regret the words even before I say them - my favorite. I want to know what those words are and why the character regrets saying them!
      Good post!

  4. Least favourite: “It happened on a sunny day in mid-March, eight years ago.”
    I feel like I've read it before. :/

    Favourite: “When life gives you lemons, buy a Mountain Dew.”
    I love the character voice coming in on this one. :)

  5. I got a Nook for Christmas over a year ago and really enjoy it.

  6. “I shouldn’t do this, but I can’t help myself.” I realy want to know what's going on. What's next.

  7. I love to read first lines, not necessarily to see if I want to read that book, but because I like to see what authors considered the perfect starting point. New follower :)

  8. "When life gives you lemons, buy a Mountain Dew." My sons would love you!
    My honey got me an Ipad for Christmas and I still haven't found the time to start downloading books.
    Thanks for the post. It does make me think (and worry).

  9. My favorites of you lines are the Mountain Dew, the Pralines, and the regret line.

    I think my all time favorite first line is from Uglies: "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit."

    I mean seriously. How cool it that?

  10. First lines are definitely crucial and the most difficult to write. I love the idea of crafting great first lines for every chapter. I think we work so hard on chapter one that we forget about the others. I'm going to go back and check on mine. Thanks for the tip :)

  11. Your Kindle is so pretty! I love the first line of The Death Collector! That would be so funny for the family to witness!

  12. Has to be 'When life gives you lemons' Wow I haven't had Mountain Dew in years, you don't see it very often in the UK! I am very jealous of your kindle, I am hoping for an e-reader (ANY e-reader!) for my Birthday as 'Santa' missed delivering me one for Christmas ;-). Isn't it strange how sometimes the same topics crop up throughout the same day but in different ways. We have been having the wonderful opening lines tutorial in our house today, as this is something my 7 year old has been learning at school and then on my first visit to your blog (which is great by the way) I read your post about the same topic! Great tutorial aid I think, Thanks ;-)

  13. It has been so much fun reading what your favorite first lines are! Thank you all!
    - Lo

  14. So I got a Kindle for Valentine's Day last year and after using it a lot on an overseas trip...I never picked it up again. I'm still a diehard fan of paper copies :)

    And my two cents on Blogging Tips! (please turn off word verification!!) Top 3 Things Well-Meaning Bloggers Do That Drive Readers Nuts