Your First 5 Lines

I’ll admit, the idea for this blog was sparked by this one, by Donald Maass. It made me think, because I’m teaching my First Five Pages class at Lawson Writer’s Academy starting today (you can still sign up – HERE). We always focus on first lines, and though I’ll admit they are critical, experts say you have ONE page to hook a reader. Since a chapter begins at a half page, 5 lines is pretty close to that first page.

According to the blog cited above, the first lines only need 2 things to be stellar:

  • The Language – word choice and cadence should set the mood
  • The setting – places where extraordinary things can happen

Yeah, thanks Don, no pressure. After reading mine, I’m not sure I wouldn’t add one more: something about an interesting character.

So I looked up the first 5 lines of a couple of my books to see how they stood the test. I don’t expect them to meet the examples The Donald chose (hello, Neil Gaiman?), but just wanted to see…


The Last True Cowboy:


Addiction sucks. I should know. Papaw has his White Lightning. Nana has her Bingo-jones. My addiction has sad green eyes and my name tattooed across his left pec.

But my wedding-dress dreams always come in second to his rodeo. There’s even a term for it; Rodeo Widow. Except to earn that title, I’d have to be married.


I’d make the case that it meets the language rule; I worked hard on the cadence, and the humor. Read the first paragraph out loud. Doesn’t meet the setting rule though – but the rest of the page does, when her old truck breaks down on a dirt road.


Her Road Home:

Running away from  home at twenty-eight—that’s gotta be a first.

Keeping her movements broad and slow, the motorcycle responded to Samantha Crozier’s shifting weight. Waterproof gear snugged around her, repelling the worst of the weather. Through the visor of her full-faced helmet, the world flowed past in shades of gray and the water-shattered reflections of passing cars.


I like the language and the cadence, and it certainly shows setting.



Nothing Sweeter:

Her new life was going be so much better than the last one. Aubrey Madison would make sure of that.

She savored the sight of a solitary saguaro standing sentinel on the flat Arizona landscape. She savored the red-tipped ocotillo branches that waved in the stiff breeze of the Jeep’s passing. She even savored the chilled air that swirled in, raising the hair on her body in an exquisite shiver.

God, it’s good to be out of prison.


By jove, I may have unwittingly made both with that one.



Do you agree with the two essential elements of the first 5 lines? What would you add?

I showed you mine, won’t you show me yours in the comments?

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