Yes, depending on the story’s length. For a short story, it’s important to get the reader’s attention right away.
For a novel, it’s better to have a strong first few paragraphs, or even a strong first chapter. A novel reader is investing time with you. You don’t want to have a big bang in the first line, first few paragraphs, or even the first chapter, then have the story slow down. Don’t hook the reader in; reel them in at a steady and accelerating pace.
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?
As to technique, no. I don’t find it challenging or not challenging. Usually something comes to me when I start a project.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
Again, depends on the length. A weak opening or a bady-written first line in a short story will keep the story from selling. In a novel, either it won’t matter, or it will be a sign of bad writing throughout.
I do think that it’s important that the opening signal to the reader what’s to come. It would be more jarring to have a first line that’s funny for a dramatic story than to have a first line that isn’t written well. Another would be a dense first line, while the rest of the story is in a more clipped style. You must let the reader know from the start that you know what you’re doing. Showing that you don’t will ruin you far more than a weak story or dull characters.
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
No worsts. My favorite isn’t so much a first line, as an opening: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It starts by telling the reader about this planet where everyone in unhappy. A girl has an idea how the world can become a happy place. A catastrophe happens and the idea is lost. Then we get these two lines:
This is not her story. But it is the story of that terrible, stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.
It’s a complete left turn that lets you know this isn’t your usual SF book.
What is one of your own best first lines?
I like this one from a new story I’ve written, featuring the main character of my first published novel, “Expert Assistance”:
This is one of the most interesting solar systems in known space, Jake Bonner thought, and I am bored looking at it.
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
Honestly, I can’t think of any. If I had one, I’ve revised it out of existence.
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?
Info-dumps. Boring prologues. Poor attempts to invoke a better opening. Confusing first lines. A hard sell.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
Don’t try too hard. Don’t be afraid to change that sentence or paragraph if it’s not strong. If you can, make it a set-up for what’s to come. It doesn’t have to be foreshadowing. It can suggest a character trait, or set the tone.
Do you have any final words?
Writing is fun, so relax and try to let the words flow.
I’ve had three SF novels published: “Monitor,” “Lisa’s Way,” and “Expert Assistance.” I’ve also had a coming of age novel published called “True Friends.” I’ve had stories and articles appear in periodicals such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine; Tales of the Talisman; Space Westerns; Sorcerous Signals; Wild West; and Model Railroader. I’ve had two biographies published, one of “Bleeding Kansas” leader Jim Lane, and the other of a Kansas Civil War general. I’ve had six Kansas railroad books published by South Platte Press.