Of course the first line is important, it’s the first glimpse of the story the reader gets to see. It can be short and catchy or long and beautiful, it can be funny, thoughtful, dark or sarcastic. Whatever it is, it sets the tone, gives a hint of what one might expect from the book.
Do you find first lines easy to come up with, or challenging? Do you have a technique, or a ritual, that you go by to make it easy?
They usually come up to me easily enough. I see two kinds of first lines; one is what I call “grab & hold,” it is supposed to instantly hook the reader. However, some stories require a slower start. Their first lines, and sometimes paragraphs, are not aiming to grab attention; they build the scene, prepare the stage. This approach I call “storytelling approach.” It can be risky, many writers avoid it these days, fearing to lose the reader. Since I write mostly fantasy, for which storytelling works well, I use it quite often.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
Patient readers are becoming a rarity in today’s world of instant gratification. Many will not care to read the book if the first line (or paragraph) disappoints and fails to interest them.
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
One of the best is, of course, the opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
I can’t quote any bad ones off the top of my head, I guess they just don’t stick in my memory.
What is one of your own best first lines?
I was understandably surprised when Shork, my lackey, announced that I had a visitor.
(From My Sparkling Misfortune, a humorous fantasy.)
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
The dog’s name is Rex.
(From my very first story that I remember writing when I was around 4.)
What are some things a first line *shouldn’t* be? What are some things that you’ve read in first lines that really rubs you the wrong way?
Making the first line half a page long is usually not a good idea. Classic authors could afford that, but I don’t think many readers would appreciate it today.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
If it hasn’t come naturally, I would advise to try writing the opening scene several times, perhaps in very different ways, and see what would work best to start the book. Does any line stand out? Does it set the proper tone? Does it intrigue and make the reader want to know more? With these questions in mind, it should not be too difficult to pick one.
Laura Lond is an internationally published author of several novels and a collection of short stories. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Having worked for 2 years at a literary museum, Laura entered the world of business, working for large international corporations like Xerox Ltd. and Fluor Daniel. After moving from Europe to the United States, she has been self-employed as a freelancer. Laura writes mostly historical fantasy.