I have a thing about first lines. I love reading them, love writing them. I’ve been pulled into a book by just a first line alone.
There are many types of first lines: irony, catalyst, comparison, asking a question, dilemma, interesting character, high concept and humor. (if you want to know more about these, I wrote a blog with examples HERE). All of them work.
But to me, what makes a great first line is one that has the reader asking questions. Where the reader thinks, ‘Wow, what’s up with that?’ They have to read on to see where that line leads them. If you write one like that, you’ve got them! (holding them is a whole ‘nother blog but stay with me here).
Here’s many examples I’ve come across over the years:
- “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
- “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.” Stormbreaker Anthony Horowitz
- “I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.
Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.” The Martian by Andy Weir
- “Lightning has struck me all my life.” – Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
- “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” B. White, Charlotte’s Webb
- “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” — Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups
- “We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” — Louise Erdrich, Tracks
- “I was born twice; first was as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room in Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
- “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” The Crow Road, Iain Banks
- “You better not never tell nobody but God.” The Color Purple, Alice Walker
I even wrote a couple I think are intriguing:
- “The grief counselor told the group to be thankful for what they had left. After lots of considering, Charla Rae decided she was grateful for the bull semen.” The Sweet Spot
- “When released from hell-hole duty overseas, most soldiers raced home. ‘CJ’ Maxwell trudged.” Amazing Gracie, releases 4/23
- “I had a good reason to become a carnie.” Work in process – no title
- “Today, death rides a bicycle. My bicycle.” For Roger – unpublished
- “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.” The Last True Cowboy
So, how do you write an intriguing first line? Tease the reader. Pull out something that will be in the first paragraph, something you really want them to know. Then hint at it in the first line.
Will it make your book a bestseller? Not alone, it won’t—that’s what the rest of the book is for. But it will make the reader read farther, which is what a great first line is for!
How about you? What is an intriguing first line you’ve read? Or written! Share with us in the comments.