1. Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
It’s important because you need to grab your reader’s attention. There’s so much material out there, you can’t afford to start off dull. If you don’t grab the reader’s attention, you’re dead.
2. 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?
The first line is easy. It’s the other several thousand that need work. Much of it comes back to my journalism training. I learned about the inverted pyramid, which was used by reporters when space restrictions were a firm absolute. When people read newspapers, they don’t read everything. You have to get the key points in the first few paragraphs to keep them reading. Plus, it helps news editors cut the story if they don’t have room. Sadly, many news writers and commentators without editors harping on them have entirely forgotten the point.
3. What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
It’ll make it harder to sell. You need either a great description or great reviews to overcome boring your readers from the get go.
4. What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
-The Christmas Carol
How can it get better than that? You are completely hooked on that first line It sets a tone for the story that is mysterious, haunting, and makes you want to read more.
The worst is a bit harder. As I think the worst opening lines don’t grab your attention, they also don’t stay in your mind. The worst beginnings are laden with actions we don’t care about, descriptions of people we don’t know, dry and uninteresting back story. Such beginnings remind me of a scene in Casablanca where Peter Lorre’s character says, “You despise me, don’t you?” Bogart’s Character, Rick responds, “If I gave you any thought I probably would.”
5. What is one of your own best first lines?
Superman fell from the sky, collided with a skyscraper, and bounced off as it toppled.
This is from my novel, Tales of the Dim Knight. The Superman is actually an action figure, but it grabs the reader’s attention and sets the reader’s expectation for the Superhero action that’s to follow later on.
6. We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
Everything’s fine. It’s always fine with me. Ask me how I’m doing after a plane carrying all of my loved ones on it crashed into the sea, and I’ll tell you. “I’m fine.”
This is from a forever unfinished novel I began when I was 21. It was attempting to be angsty and sarcastic but came off a little too whiny and the first line sets the tone. It still grabs attention, but not in a great way. Ugh. Remember, you asked for it.
7. 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?
It shouldn’t give us a bunch of information we don’t care about and until we’re drawn into the story, we won’t care about any of it. I’d also add that I’m not a fan of beginning with a profanity or with sex. You may capture our attention with that, but it’s a kind of lowest common denominator approach that’s really cheating
8. Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
Understand that you need to capture your reader’s attention. What are your readers looking for? Are they looking for a character to empathize with? Are they hungry for heart stopping action? A mystery? Figure out what to bait to use to lure your readers in to your story. If you lose them on the first line, you’ve lost them.
Adam Graham is the author of the novel Tales of the Dim Knight and has just published the first of eight novella sequels with Powerhouse Flies Again. He’s also working on a mystery novel entitled Slime Incorporated. He’s the host of The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and Old Time Radio Superman podcasts. He lives in Boise with his wife and co-author Andrea. http://laserandsword.com