Friday, May 21, 2010

The Importance of First Lines

First lines are a big deal. A REALLY big deal. My most hated first line is from Scott Westerfeld's UGLIES:

The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.

I hated it because it was obviously there just to snag my attention (cats were never mentioned again.) Good book, though. (Westerfeld blogs about first lines here.)

Of my four newly-purchased books, I decided to read the one with the best first line:

1. "I told you this was a great place." Corbin Dunston beamed with pride as he held up the trout he'd just reeled in.

2. "Nick. Nick-ee. Are you there? I'm in trouble. Real bad trouble."

3. Today they will find her body.

4. News item from the Westover (Me.) weekly Enterprise, August 16, 1966: RAIN OF STONES REPORTED

Based on these first lines, which book would you choose to read? And do you think first lines should say something about the book's genre or story?

What is the first line of the book you are currently reading? What is the first line of a book you are writing?


P.S. In case you are curious, the first lines are from the following books:
1. KILLER DREAMS by Iris Johansen
2. OBSESSION by Karen Robards
3. THE SURGEON by Tess Gerritsen (my favorite author)
4. CARRIE by Stephen King


Christine Fonseca said...

I love looking at first lines! Okay - I like #3 - totally makes me want to read it!

The first lines of my new WiP:
"I'm a cutter - someone who deliberately slices my own skin, hoping to draw a touch of blood."

Of course, given that it is a WiP - it'll likely change.

And while I think first lines are important...I thing first pages are MORE important!

Nichole Giles said...

Okay, here's my first line.

"Kye's shirt is drenched with blood."

And I hate that line from Uglies too.

You're right. The first line is crucial. And the first 250 words even more so. Here's hoping we can all find that perfect beginning!

DL Hammons said...

Ewwwwww...I like #3. The first line is important...but not make-it/break-it.

I think I've every word in my novel, but the first line has always remained the same.

Today was the day.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Hmmm...based on those first lines, I would probably read #2, followed by #3. This was fun, Suzette.

This is the first line of my WIP:

After two days of digging, Scott finally had a small cup full of worms.

Have a great weekend. :-)

Bethany Wiggins said...

The one I liked least is line 4. Funny it's from S. King. Like almost everyone else, line three hooked me. And here's the first line of my/our WIP.

"To keep my eyes open."

Tere Kirkland said...

LOL, I'm biased because number 4 is one of my all time faves!

(Don't tell Scott, but I always hated that first line, too. It got me thinking too much about pets and how there were none to speak of in the whole society. I'll quit before I get going on how pets would have kept Tally's society from obsessing about beauty, since pets love you exactly the way you are. ;D )

Unknown said...

1st line of book I'm reading: "The story goes that even after the Return they tried to keep the roller coasters going." Carrie Ryan, Dead-Tossed Waves.

My 1st line: I waited for her behind a large oak tree.

lotusgirl said...

Of the ones you listed I picked the 3rd one. The Surgeon. Shows the importance of the first sentence. I really like the first line of the book I'm reading: "My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die." The next sentence clenches it though. "I counted." That's from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

you won the body finder on my blog :)

Liza said...

I went with number 4. I've already read it, but it was so long ago, I didn't remember that first line!

Tabitha said...

I'm so with you on that first line in Uglies. I think I actually grimaced the first time I read it, and was dreading more lines like that throughout the book. Fortunately, that was the only one. :)

First lines are very important, and SO hard. It needs to capture the reader's attention, but also should somewhat set the tone for the novel and main character. The 'cat vomit' line doesn't do that. :)

My vote goes to #3. I'm ready to sit down with that book right now! :)

S.A. Larsenッ said...

I'm liking #3. Makes me go 'Ooh...Hmmm, and then 'What s'up?'

Elana Johnson said...

I'd totally keep reading #3. I'm all about finding bodies and such.

Stephanie said...

I totally agree about the "Uglies" opening line....but I did love the book and read "Pretties" and have "Specials" all loaded up on my Sony reader, just waiting for me :)

Of the ones you posted, I think #2 grabs me the most.

I am currently reading "The Carrie Diaries" and the first line is: They say a lot can happen in a summer.

The story I'm working on starts with: “Mommy, mommy, come quick!” Robyn heard from the living room.

I think first lines are important...I think they do have to grab a reader. You want your reader draw in as soon as humanly possible! And yes, you should be able to tell a lot about the story from that first line. Obviously from mine you can already tell it's women's fiction about a mom.

Angie said...

I would choose #2, because it's the most interesting and I don't like fish. Or dead bodies. :)

First line from what I'm reading: Even in the depth of my nightmares, Lycus IV was a formidable hell.

From what I'm writing: No tree grew in the Black City.


Lindsay said...

I like numbers two and three.
I think the first line is important, but it is nice if it means something rather than just being an insert to grab attention.

Unknown said...

I'm the opposite. My whole first chapter has changed a dozen times, including the first line. Here's the current one:

The baby floated face down in the tub.

readingkidsbooks said...

One of my fav 1st lines is from the YA novel Trigger by Susan Vaught...

"I have this dream where both legs work and both arms work and I don't have any scars on the outside..."

It's an amazing opening to a book that you won't be able to put down no matter how late at night you start it. So, take my advice and begin it early or you'll be up all night!

Lydia Kang said...

Here's my first line:

Another argument, third one this week.

I like hearing everyone else's too!

Krispy said...

I'd go with #3. That one had me right away. First lines should grab attention, but I don't like it either if it's attention-grabbing for the sake of attention-grabbing.

Working on a bunch of random stuff at the moment, but here's the first line from the novel-in-progress.

Cian searched for treachery in his shadow, but the dark figure against the wall remained as motionless as he was.

Unknown said...

Ooh, I like number 3.

I think first lines are important. That's the first thing (apart from the blurb) that I look at to determine if I'll buy the book. If the first page doesn't thrill me, especially that line, I'll probably not get it.

The first line of my current WIP is:
"Flying Monkey Robots, how original."

Carolyn V. said...

I need a really good first line to grab my attention. It's so true. =)

Leigh Hutchens Burch said...

Option 3 intrigued me the most -- and that was before I read that the book was written by your favorite author!

Corey Schwartz said...

Running to Amazon to buy book #3! :)

Jemi Fraser said...

#3 for sure. Sounds like a good suspense - but if it gets too scary, I'd have to opt out. I'm such a wimp!

One of my fave first lines in Fahrenheit 451 - "It was a pleasure to burn" - the next sentence has great imagery too.

Kimberly Job said...

My vote goes to #3.

My first line of WIP: Jessica cringed as she slipped the engagement ring on her finger.

Shelley Sly said...

#3 grabbed my attention the most. I'll have to check out that book.

I also wanted to say, I thought the exact same thing about the first line of "Uglies". I kept waiting for a cat to show up, and it never did. I felt kind of tricked. Good book otherwise, though.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I picked number two...

Here's the first sentence in a hf pb I'm working on...

One by one, fifty-six children climbed out of the coal-black train that rolled into Leek.

Tez Miller said...

Before I read futuristics, before I read urban fantasy, I was big on crime - and Tess Gerritsen was my favourite, along with Karin Slaughter :-)

Jennie Englund said...

I'm with the consensus on #3!

Lisa K. said...

Me, I'd go with #4. That's right up my alley.

Olivia Carter said...

I like #2 and #3. I like first lines just because they are fun, but they don't make or break a book for me. First chapter- YES. First line- NOT SO MUCH.

I'm currently reading Spirit Bound- the new Vampire Academy book. The first line is great:

"There's a big difference between death threats and love letters- even if the person writing the death threats still claims to actually love you."

Vicki Rocho said...

Based on first lines, I'd pick #3, based on title, #2.

I have read Carrie, but I'd forgotten that's how it started. Of course, I think I read it almost 25 years ago...might be time to revisit it.

Michelle McLean said...

I'd go for #3 as well :)

My first line (at the moment) is:

It was my fault he was late, but that didn't make it any less irritating.

Jess of All Trades said...

Hmmm...of those, I would read #1, but probably because I love fishing :D And I think there's a lot of character in the first lines.
My favorite first line of all time is the opening of 'A Wizard of Earthsea."The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards."

The opening of my current baby is: "Elynor was the first to see the raiders the night they rode a storm in from the sea."

greg cryns said...

The hair rose on his neck when it dawned on him that at age 63 he had not started his book yet.

Helena Carlo said...

My fave 1st line is from "The Glass Castle."

"I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."
I couldn't put that book down.

Larissa said...

Great post!

I picked #2 and then #3.

From what I'm reading: "This is a thing I've learned: Even with a gun to my head, I am capable of being convulsed with laughter." (RELENTLESS by Dean Koontz)

From my writing: "I always thought books were boring and a waste of time, but not dangerous. I was wrong."

Blee Bonn said...

Great topic. I liked #3 too. And, I agree with everything you said about that first line in UGLIES.

G said...

The first line of my just completed WIP gives absolutely no inkling of what's in store for the reader.

"I need an extension."


#3, definitely. I just posted about first lines, after being inspired by the Blood-Red Pencil. There seems to be a lot of first-line crazy going around the blogosphere lately"!

Corinne O said...

#3 is for me, followed by #2. I had to laugh at #4, because I love all things S. King. I did not remember that as the first line.

My WIP's current first line:

Our waitress eyeballed the four of us and sniffed.

I like looking back at first lines, although I think the first paragraph is most important to me.

Laura Pauling said...

I would totally read #3 b/c the prospect of a body just invites a lot of mystery and secrets. And the conflict hits you right in the face. I'd read that one first.

Nishant said...

I love looking at first lines
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