We all judge books by their covers. We know we shouldn’t, but sometimes it just happens, right? On some level, even subconsciously, our personal preferences come into play when we look at the cover of a book, and we make that ultimate decision: Is this a book I want to read?
Yeah, covers are mighty important for any author or publisher. But you know what else is important?
Every book is different. Some will lure you in with ambiguity and subtle hints at what is to come. Others will toss you firmly into the middle of the action. But the goal is the same — hook the reader in.
If you don’t do that with the first line, you mightn’t do it at all.
Personally, I think you know you’ve found a ripper of a read when you can quote that first line (or even the first paragraph!) back to people. They’re the kinds of lines that people will remember through the ages, that your readers will use as a way of judging if they want to turn the page, or put your book back on the shelf.
With this in mind, I went back over some of my short stories, and decided to post their first lines. Some of them are okay. Some of them… Not so much. But that’s okay — nobody said that first lines were meant to be easy, and I shall simply endeavour to improve!
Here are a collection of my firsties:
- “She looks like an angel, all blue-eyed and rosy-cheeked.”
- “Happy, smiling faces are neither happy nor smiling once they start to burn.”
- “A shrill whistle pierced the air as the monorail rattled into the station, bringing with it a peculiar scent of burnt metal and banana bread.”
- “The Cave is all that there is, was, and ever will be.”
- “Lucas chewed thoughtlessly on the end of his pencil, filling his mouth with the taste of painted wood.”
- “The robot sat weeping in the corner, to the growing concern of the scientists who observed it.”
But when you struggle with finding a clincher, it’s always nice to turn to the classics. Without further ado, I present:
LOVE THE BAD GUY’S “FIRST LINE” CHALLENGE
Contestants, put your hands on the buzzers! (Or, you know… close down your Google Tab. No cheating, now!)
Below, I have typed out some of the more brilliant opening lines (only the first one or two sentences) of fiction novels — some of my personal favourites. Answers at the bottom of the post. Let me know how you all do!
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
- “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”
- “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
- “It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”
- “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
- “All this happened, more or less.”
- “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”
- “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.”
- “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”
- “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’”
- “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”
- “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
So, readers, what makes a great first line? Any other personal favourites that you’d like to share?
- Love The Bad Guy
Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen
Holes – Louis Sachar
- 1984 – George Orwell
- Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
- Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
- The Princess Bride — William Goldman
- Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde — Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
- Great Expectations — Charles Dickens
- The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold