First Lines interview with author Adam Graham

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?

The best:

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

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First Lines interview with author R. W. Peake


1. Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?

Absolutely. I think that first line sets the tone for what’s to come; it grabs (or doesn’t) the reader’s attention and gets them invested enough to read on. While I think that there’s value in a more subtle approach, where the suspense, or the drama or whatever the author is going for, builds slowly, I for one ain’t very subtle. I prefer an opening line that somehow strikes a chord with a reader. Whether it’s through an emotion or action that the reader identifies with, or it feels like a punch in the gut, but in a good way, that first line to me makes all the difference.

 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?

I know this will sound like bragging, but I find it very easy to come up with a first line that, from everything I’ve been told by the various readers of those lines, grabs the reader’s attention and gets them engaged early on. But that has actually been something of a curse for me. Here I am  in my 50’s, a newly minted published author, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I could actually think of myself as a true writer, because for the first time I actually put something to go along with the first line. I’ve been pushed to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but for a variety of reasons, none of them really any good, I preferred to ignore the one area where I seem to have the most talent.

Except in the period between when I wrote my first “novel” at the age of 10, roughly 1969 and 2006, that desire to write would come bubbling up, and I would sit down with a story in mind, and then I would crank out a first line to start. Then, I might add a few paragraphs, and in a couple of other cases, a fair number of pages. In short, I was a GREAT starter. Not so great on finishing, however. And I think part of that stems from the fact that it is easy for me to think of a good first line.

As far as technique? I wish I could tell you I had one, but I don’t. I have a vague story idea; sometimes it’s even more than vague, the story arc being fully formed in my head, with a beginning and at least an end. Based on whatever that idea was, I would write a first line that followed the general guideline I set out earlier, trying to grab the reader’s attention.

 3. What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line? 

With any book, there’s a sort of contract between the author and reader. The author promises to deliver a story that the reader will find engaging, and if they live up to that, the reader more or less promises to stick with that author even when there might be a paragraph, or page that lags a bit. But with a badly written first line, the terms of that contract suddenly tilt into the reader’s favor, because the burden of proof that the author will live up to the terms of that contract just became much, much larger. Essentially, with that first badly written line, the author now has a hole to climb out of in order to deliver the goods, as it were. If that’s followed up by another one, or one after that, the burden becomes inestimably higher.

Like any author, I’m an avid reader as well, and I think every reader has had an experience with a book where the only thing that keeps you plodding on is the fact that you spent a certain amount of money on the title, and the hope that somewhere in the pages ahead, you’ll recoup your investment. So you read on with the grim determination of a musher in the Iditarod who’s racing through a blizzard, determined that you’re going to get something out of this, damn it!

No author wants their reader to feel that way. And, truth be known, in this digital age where books are only a couple of bucks, or even (gulp) free, that determination to get some sort of payoff is even more short-lived.

 4. What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst? 

 It was dark and cold, the only light coming from the crack under the ill-fitting door.

As first lines go, in and of itself it’s not great literature, but it’s the first line of “Reilly’s Luck”, by Louis L’Amour, the first of his books that I’ve read, beginning a lifelong love affair with his works, and with an author who was not only a huge influence on me as a writer, but whose hard-boiled, pragmatic outlook served as the kind of wisdom that a young boy without a father needed. Even now, after reading every one of his books, I still rank Reilly’s Luck as my favorite, and one of his best. Will Reilly taught me more on how to be a man than any other single influence in my life, which is probably a somewhat sad statement, but is true nonetheless.

Worst line? Nah. Honestly I can’t remember any line that sticks out so much that I can recite it. Unless it’s Snoopy’s classic, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

 5. What is one of your own best first lines?

Well, that’s kind of tough; which one of your kids do you love the most? And I will say that with Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul (available on Amazon.com. Barnesandnoble.com, and smashwords.com, not that I’m shilling my book or anything), I’ve been fortunate to receive a large number of reviews in a relatively short period of time, and the response has been more positive than I could have dreamed. But one common theme in the reviews has been, “I was hooked from the first line.”

So I guess that should mean I would put that one down. But there’s another one, from the book I completed in 2006 that, according to about the 30-odd people who have read it, would seem to be my best one. I will say that it’s the line that means the most to me, for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it got some significant interest from three different agents. However, at the last minute I decided to withdraw the book from consideration, because of the pain it would cause people I love a great deal. Ultimately, I think of all the books I write, it will be this book that I will point to and say, “THAT is the one I want to be known by.” But I will have to wait until a later time so that what might be my best book doesn’t cause the most heartache.

With that in mind, here it is:

 I was conceived in desperation and born in anger, spat out of my mother’s womb as a guided missile, with a target and a mission that I neither chose nor even understood until it was too late.

More than one of my readers likened this to being punched in the stomach. While I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I do know that it kept them reading.

 6. We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines? 

Okay, my worst first line is burned into my memory, mainly because it was my very FIRST first line. When I was 10, I wrote a “novel” about the Soviet invasion of the U.S……..focused entirely on my street, in Houston, Texas. Yes, the entire effort of the dirty Commies’ attempt to crush the good ol’ U.S. of A. came right down my street.

And it would have been successful too, but they just happened to pick the wrong bunch of 10 year olds, as we singlehandedly fought the might of the Soviet horde, armed with WWII-vintage weapons (that was the period of history I was obsessed with at that time) to a standstill.

So with that in mind, I present to you my very first, and my very worst first line. (Audible gulp)

 This was no game, this was war!!!!!!

(I think it was six exclamation points, but it could have been more. That’s how the reader knew it was a very serious situation and I wasn’t just kidding around.)

 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?

Uh, it shouldn’t be bad? Sorry, can’t resist the occasional smartass comment. Although I haven’t given the matter a whole lot of deep thought, I have some immediate observations and ideas that bubble up. And while I can’t immediately point to any specific first line in any first book, I think that others will understand what I’m saying.

I don’t think a first line should be an attempt by the author to dazzle the reader with their literary brilliance. No matter what the subject matter is, any work, whether it’s one of “literary fiction” (whatever the hell that means) or stories of the zombie apocalypse mashed up with fairies and elves, the author is telling a story. And any first line that doesn’t serve as the first building block of that story is one of those things that shouldn’t happen.

I’ve seen too many cases where the author seeks to show his chops at crafting a sentence that I’m sure in his mind will be the first thing that’s mentioned in his Pulitzer Prize citation, yet has no real connection to the story. To me, it’s a form of the “smartest guy in the room” syndrome, where the author is more concerned with showing off and not in telling a story.

Yeah, I guess that does rub me the wrong way.

 8. 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 take this the wrong way, but of all the questions I get, I hate those that ask me for some sort of advice to pass on to other writers. Although it has nothing to do with not giving away any “trade secrets” that I see some other writers cite, since I don’t view other writers as competition as much as I do colleagues, it’s more about who am I to give advice? Like a lot of other “indie” authors, I’m self-published, but unlike some of my colleagues I don’t mind saying I’m self-published, but that probably has more to do with the fact that my book is selling well, especially for a self-published first attempt. The fact that I didn’t try to find a publisher very hard and after surveying the landscape decided that I could make a go of it on my own has something to do with it as well.

Even so, I’m somewhat leery of offering advice simply because I could be a one-hit wonder, and I AM self-published when all is said and done. With all that said, I guess all I can really offer is, go with your gut. You know what resonates with you as a reader; you also know what doesn’t. What captures your attention when you read a book? What are the elements that captivate you in the first line of a story?

Once you identify that, then do that.

As far as advice I’ve heard, I can’t really recall anything. Sorry.

Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul by R. W. PeakeMarching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul is a first-person narrative, written in the form of a memoir as dictated to a scribe of Titus Pullus, Legionary, Optio, First Spear Centurion of Caesar’s 6th and 10th Legion. The memoir is written three years after his retirement as Camp Prefect, when Titus is 61 years old. 

Titus, along with his boyhood friend Vibius Domitius, joins the 10th Legion in the draft of 61 BC, when Gaius Julius Caesar is the governor of Spain. Titus and Vibius are assigned to a tent group, with seven other men who will become their closest friends during their times in the legion. Titus, Vibius and their comrades endure the harsh training regimen that made the legions the most feared military force in the ancient world. The 10th Legion is blooded in a series of actions in Spain, led by Caesar in a campaign that was the true beginning of one of the most brilliant military careers in history.

Three years after joining the legions, the 10th is called on again, this time to be part of the subjugation of Gaul, one of the greatest feats of arms in any period of history. During the subsequent campaigns, the 10th cements its reputation as Caesar’s most favored and trusted legion, and is involved in most of the major actions during this period.

This first book of a completed trilogy closes with Caesar crossing the Rubicon, and the 10th preparing to march to war, this time against fellow Romans.

Connect with RW Peake on Twitter & Facebook
Website http://www.marchingwithcaesar.com/

First Lines interview with author Alicia Kat Dillman

Alicia Kat DillmanDo you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?

Yes, the beginning of a story is just as important as the last line in a story. If your opening line is poor you run the risk that the potential reader might drop it back on the shelf like it’s on fire and never find out the rest of the story.

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?

I find them hard, I’m much better at writing end lines of chapters. The kind that make you want to flip to the next chapter. I find ends and middles much easier than beginnings so I tend to write the beginnings last.

Some people like to start with in medias res but I tend to start with something atmospheric. I have a background in theater so I always have a need to set my scene; to place the reader firmly in their surroundings. For chapter openers I start with one of three things. An atmospheric description, a bit of dialog or a character’s inner thoughts or comment on what’s been going on.

What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?

If you don’t have a good first line your book could be dead in the water. I tend to read the entire first page before deciding if I’ll get a book. Some people aren’t so forgiving.

What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?

Rick Riordan always has my favorite openers of all time, hands down. It was this line in The Last Olympian, Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 5, that got me to read the series. Now Riordan is one of my favorite authors.

The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car.

I can’t recall the worst first line I ever read.

What is one of your own best first lines?
Here’s are two chapter openers from Daemons in the Mist:

The truth sat there on the screen, burning a hole into me.

The next day I really did feel like I had been hit by a Buick.

We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?

I opened one eye.

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?

I’d have to say, an info dump. There’s a vast difference between setting the scene and boring your readers to death. I’m really turned off by books that start with pages and pages of exposition or really slow prologues.

Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?

Some people say you should start with dialog, or in the middle of action(in medias res). I suggest you start with one of three things depending on what the chapter is about.

  • Scene setting- make sure its atmospheric and sensory. Make your reader feel like they are there.
  • Dialog- starting with a question, or in a middle of a scene.
  • In Medias Res- By starting in the middle of an action sequence (ie. fight, chase, battle), you heighten the dramatic impact of the scene. Done right, it will get your readers blood pumping and draw them in. Done poorly it will leave them highly confused.

Daemons in the Mist CoverIndie author & illustrator Alicia Kat Dillman is a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. Kat illustrates and designs book covers & computer game art by day and writes teen fiction by night. The owner of two very crazy studio cats and nine overfull bookcases, Kat can usually be found performing, watching anime or hanging out in twitter chats when not playing in the imaginary worlds within her head.

Currently I’m working on the next two books in The Marked Ones Trilogy. You can always find out what I’m working on and how far along each project is by visiting my Works in Progress Page.

www.katgirlstudio.com

First lines interview with author John Carter

Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?

The first line of a story is absolutely important. It sets the tone for the entire tale and has to act quickly to catch the reader’s attention. I can’t even begin to count how many books I’ve passed on reading because the first line didn’t appeal to me. I think the first line of any story should be the author’s best shot at grabbing my attention.

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?

First lines are difficult for me to write. Sometimes I lay in bed at night and let words roll around my head when I’m working on a new book. I keep a pad next to me and jot down ideas and notes. Later, I’ll tweak what I have and hopefully come up with a line that’s memorable.

What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?

The consequences of a poorly written first line are fairly significant. Lost books sales and potential readers top out the list. If an author can’t grab me with his first words, I’m probably going to pass on reading the rest of the book.

What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

Stephen King’s the Dark Tower Book One: The Gunslinger. I love that line. It’s so simple but so engaging and it sets the tone for not only the entire book but the entire series. I was immediately drawn in.

What is one of your own best first lines?

I have a middle grades reader, Eli Arnold and the Keys to Forever Book One: It’s about Time. I’m very fond of the opening line:

“This is madness,” Tevlok screamed over the ear-splitting wails of the siren.

I hope it conveys that something terrible is happening and grabs the reader’s attention.

We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?

I think that would be,

The world collapsed on a Sunday morning.

I’m still working on it though

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?

I hate first lines that are generic. Things like,

My name is Billy and I have brown hair.

I think it’s always a mistake to tell the readers anything – show them through the writing. Sometimes, I’ll go back and read what I’ve written in a day and think, “this sounded so good earlier. What happened?” I think as writers, we sometimes get in a rush to get out what we want to say and end up writing lazy. First lines should never be lazy!

Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?

I think first lines just have to be played with and rewritten again and again until they are perfect. I always try to picture myself reading my first line in a book store and then I ask myself if I would keep reading this book. Until I can honestly say that I would, I keep working on it.

It's About Time Book CoverI’m an independent author and just recently published my first book, Eli Arnold and the Keys to Forever. It’s available on Amazon. I’m married and have one little girl who is about to turn 14. Most of my stories were originally written for her.

I’m an attorney but hate practicing law so I decided to follow the little voice inside my head and start writing. All of the rules and regulations that go along with the practice of law don’t have any place in writing. Anything can happen. The imagination is the only limit. I live in the deep south and write as much as possible. I’m currently finishing up the second Eli Arnold book and also working on several other writing projects.

First Lines interview with author Susan Helene Gottfried

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Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
I do consider the first line to be important, as a really good one can grab a reader and, hopefully, begin a promise to not let go. However, a weak first line doesn’t necessarily mean a bad book. It very well could mean there was no better way to start.

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?
I don’t think much about first lines, to be honest. I let them evolve. My technique is to write something down, then mold it into shape through the revision process. Because my first draft method is to write garbage until I figure out where the story’s going and then go back and craft the beginning to match the end – which isn’t nearly as backwards as it sounds – the first line is one of the LAST things I consider.

What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
A lot of readers put all their faith in that one lonely line. That’s too bad because they may be limiting themselves. I mean, think about it. If a book is 100,000 words but the first ten aren’t spectacular, aren’t you possibly being a bit premature in your judgement?
In some ways, our instant-gratification society has gotten a bit out of control.

What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
I can’t place famous movie quotes and unless it’s Metallica (and even sometimes regardless if it’s Metallica), I can’t take a song lyric out of context and identify it. Same problem with first lines. I couldn’t even tell you the first line from a book I’ve read a million times, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

What is one of your own best first lines?
That would be in Trevor’s Song. The first line is the famed eleven-letter word that rhymes with mother trucker.
Yep. A bit of a shocker, there, but it’s also typical Trevor. He’s not one to settle in anything, including his frustrated outbursts.

We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
I do a LOT of bad first lines, just because of how I work. A lot of them remain on my blog, even, because I often post first-draft fiction in response to a writing prompt, or just because I feel like it. I think my blog character, Chelle LaFleur, has really bad first lines; many of them start in the vein of,

Listen up, now, boys and girls, ‘cause Chelle here’s got somethin’ to say.

Are you yawning? I am. You’d think someone who works as an editor would edit her own stuff and come up with something jazzier. I ought to work on that, come to think of it… Poor Chelle. She deserves better.
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?
Right now, with trends being what they are, I’d say a first line should NOT be a description of the landscape. The trend is to throw the reader into the action from the first word, so taking time to tell us all about the sunset or the tree that’s been bent by the wind… sure, it’s pretty and pretty writing is always welcome. But on the other hand, a writer also needs to write to their audience, and audiences these days are pretty well conditioned to want action.

Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
The first line, as an art, should tease. It should offer hints of what’s to come and even some foreshadowing, even if all that’s being foreshadowed is the rest of the chapter. For instance, it’s my hope that when you sit down with Trevor’s Song, that one-word first line will make you curious about what he’s so hyper about. Sure, you’ll learn later on that Trevor swears like a truck driver (or the foul-mouthed rock star he is), but he also doesn’t use that word much. He chose it because it’s expressing the intensity of his emotion. He’s frustrated, worried, maybe a bit scared and definitely trying to deny the panic that’s rising.

Do you have any final words?
No, because we’re talking first lines here, not last lines. 🙂

Although, I had a friend in graduate school who always said that the first line sells your current book, and your last line sells the next one.
Make of that what you will.

Susan Helene Gottfried is the author of ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes — Year 1, ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes — Year 2, Trevor’s Song, ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes — Year 3, and King Trevor. A tone-deaf rocker-at-heart, Susan worked in retail record stores, in radio stations, as stage crew, and as a promoter while earning two college degrees in creative writing.

Susan walked away from a continued career in the music industry in order to write books, so it makes sense that most of her fiction revolves around rock bands. Once you get those record stores, radio stations, and fellow roadies and promoters under your skin, they never leave.
To fill her time, Susan takes on freelance line and copy editing from various clients.

Susan’s Website: http://westofmars.com

First Lines interview with author Tallulah Grace

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Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?

Yes and no. First lines can be impacting enough to set the stage for the entire book, or they can simply be a lead-in to the meat of the story. An intriguing first line entices the reader to continue, thus giving the plot a chance to thicken and the characters a chance to shine.

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?

Most often, I find that first lines come easily. The goal is to draw the reader into the story as quickly as possible, but it takes more than a good first line to accomplish this. If my novels have a prelude, the first line is often a lead-in to help set the stage. My favorite technique for stories without a prelude is to begin in the midst of a conversation. A conversation can set the tone for the story as well as give readers insight into the characters and the potential flow of events.

What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?

I’d like to believe that most readers would continue beyond a so-so first line to read at least the first few pages of any written work, but that may not be the case. With the escalation of available electronic reading material, it’s quite possible that readers may base their entire opinion of a work on the first line and choose not to purchase. If this is the case, first lines can have an extreme influence on an author’s success.

What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?

As nothing immediately jumped to mind, I did a bit of research in order to answer your question. Greater minds than mine have selected this as among the top 100 first lines ever written:

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

—Raphael Sabatini, Scaramouche (1921).

I confess to having never read the book, but I love that line. And now that I’ve read the line, I want to read the book. This is a great example of the positive influence a first line can have on a reader. Is the line my favorite? Probably not, but it’s in the top twenty. Asking my favorite is like asking what flavor of ice cream I’d like; it depends on the day and on my mood.

As a firm believer in Karma, I’d rather not call out the worst first line I’ve ever read.

What is one of your own best first lines?
One of my favorite first lines is from my latest novel, The Littles, An SSCD Crime Thriller:

The woman’s eyes shot daggers of pain-filled hatred into the black, soulless eyes of her son.

The line lets the reader know that the story is not one for the squeamish while providing insight into the mind of the serial killer stalking the pages of the book.

We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
I’m still not crazy about the first line of Spellbound, the second novel in my Timeless Trilogy series:

That’s a wrap, thanks everyone.

The line is not part of a conversation, but more like a transition into the story.

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?
I’m not a fan of first lines that extend into an entire paragraph. If a sentence drags on for five inches on the page, it loses me.

Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
I say just jump in. Don’t let creating the ‘perfect’ first line make you stymied; dive headfirst into the story, then edit as needed.

Do you have any final words?
I know that a great first line can create instant interest in both the author and the story, prompting a reader to seek out the book. On the flipside, I don’t believe that any written work should be judged on the basis of the quality/meaning/attraction of the first line.

Thanks for the opportunity to voice my opinion. I’m currently promoting my new release, The Littles, an FBI thriller, and I’m in the midst of writing the second book of the series. My website, www.tallulahgrace.com, includes snippets and samples of the four novels and one novella that I’ve previously published as well as a short story and bits of flash fiction.

An aficionado of anything paranormal, Tallulah Grace pens romantic suspense novels with a paranormal flair. Tallulah was born and raised in a small southern town located in the foothills of the vibrant Blue Ridge Mountains. When she’s not developing characters and weaving stories, Tallulah enjoys reading and bead-weaving.

First Lines interview with author Joe Vasicek

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Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story?  If so, why?

It can be, but not always. Some stories, especially shorter ones, need to start out with a strong first line to provide that hook and get things off to a running start. With other stories, however, more important elements eclipse the need for a good first line. For example, I remember quite vividly the first line of The Hobbit, but Lord of the Rings? I can’t remember it off the top of my head, and that doesn’t take away from my experience of 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?

This is going to sound frustrating, but every book is different, and I don’t really have a consistent method except to do what works. For Bringing Stella Home, I hung on to a pretty bad opening just for the sake of the first line, then tossed it out and decided not to put too much importance on it. For Genesis Earth, the first line was what drove me to finish the story.

In general, though, I think of first lines in terms of the story question, which should be raised in the first page or two of the book. For example, the story question for Ender’s Game is “will Ender Wiggins save the world without destroying himself in the process?” For Pride and Prejudice, the story question is “will the Bennett girls marry the right young men?” The first line is an important part of the hook, and since the hook should raise or touch on the story question in some way, so should the first line.

I do think it’s important not to overthink things, though. Sometimes, you just have to take a step back and not lose sight of the forest for the trees. When you’ve got a good first line, you’ll know.

What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?

To be honest, I don’t think the consequences of doing it “wrong” are always necessarily bad. For example, my favorite book of all time is The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. The first line of that book isn’t particularly memorable. It fits really well with Ende’s voice, however, and for that almost fairy-tale kind of story, it works quite well. If he’d spent a lot of time trying to rewrite the first line to fit some kind of formula, or to follow a set of rules, it would have clashed so much with the rest of his writing that it would have felt stilted and out of place. But as it is, I think it works fine.

That said, I don’t think that’s a license to be lazy or to say that everything works just fine simply because you wrote it. It’s an art. Pablo Picasso may have charged thousands of dollars for a drawing he scribbled on the back of a napkin, but he had a whole lifetime of work and experience to justify doing something like that. You’ve still got to put in the proverbial million words.

What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?

I’m not a huge romance reader, but my favorite first line would have to be the classic from 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 think of any other first line that sets up the story more perfectly, or gets across the main idea in a better way.

As for the worst first line I’ve ever read, I don’t think I can point to any one. No matter how many bad ones I come up with, I’m sure there’s a worse one somewhere that I’ve read and forgotten, or a book I didn’t finish where the first line just didn’t fit. That’s the thing about poorly-written books, though–you tend to forget them.

What is one of your own best first lines?

Earth was a ghost that haunted me.

That’s the first line for Genesis Earth, my first published novel. I know I’m not the best judge of my own writing, but that line was what kept me from giving up and throwing it out. It seemed like such a zinger, I just had to finish the rest of it–and I’m glad I did!

We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?

My own first line is probably from my other first novel, which will never see the light of day. After listening to a lot of writing advice without having enough time or experience for it to resonate, I took some of it a little too literally while completely ignoring the rest:

Pravda Vitezi: Truth Prevails said the ornate blue lettering along the clean white walls of the narrow, zero gravity corridor leading to the bridge of the Avion-45.

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?

A first line shouldn’t be pretentious. It shouldn’t feel like it’s trying too hard. It’s like women’s make-up: if you immediately notice that it’s there, something is probably wrong.

Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?

I think it’s a little like Bruce Lee’s fighting method, where he described his journey from novice to master. At first, a punch was just a punch. Then, as he studied various martial arts and fighting techniques, it became an incredibly complicated thing which he was constantly trying hard to perfect. Once he became a master, though, a punch was just a punch.

Do you have any final words?

Don’t forget to have fun!

Joe Vasicek is a science fiction writer who has lived in more than twenty different places in the past ten years, most recently Kutaisi, the capital of ancient Colchis. When he writes, though, his mind is anywhere but this world. His most recently published novel is Desert Stars, a tale of homecoming, intrigue, and romance on the fringes of an interstellar empire that has forgotten its holiest legend: the story of Earth. He keeps a regular blog at One Thousand and One Parsecs, and can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. Sometimes. But no matter where he goes, he’s always writing.

First Lines interview with author Martin Pond

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Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
Absolutely, because it’s a hook. Okay, most readers are a little more forgiving and will give a book a chance, at least for the first couple of pages. But a strong opening line is very important. Books are like people – first impressions count for a lot.

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?
I don’t have a technique as such – I just try to find the narrative “voice” and then use that to deliver a hook. They usually come easily, because subconsciously I’m in a hurry to get on with the story.

What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
A bad first line is an instant turn-off. It lessens the chances of a reader finishing the first chapter, which in turn lessens the chances of finishing the book… and starting the next one.

What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
Tough question. Not sure I have a favourite, but this is pretty good – from “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson:

On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.

It’s good because it immediately raises questions – who are they, why is it important to get back before they’re in the streets, and get back to where?

And worst? Where to start… Dan Brown, maybe?

Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

What is one of your own best first lines?
I’m working on a short story at the moment that begins with simply

This is what happened.

For now, I quite like that – it seems to suit the first-person narrative well. I also like “Is she flirting with me?” from my novel-in-progress.

We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
“I’m not sure what’s happening.” Not only was it the first line, it was the whole first paragraph. Quiet similar to the line I’ve just quoted as a favourite, I know, but I don’t think it fits with the narrative in this case. That’s a crucial difference.

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?
Pointless detail. I don’t need to know that the man was 76 years old or that the woman was 5ft 6, not in the first line. Such detail always feel like primary school writing to me, when a child is just learning to use descriptive words and so throws them in everywhere.

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 agonise over it but do try to hook the reader, even if only subtly. Try to raise a question – give the reader an incentive to persevere.

Do you have any final words?
Yes – buy my books please! Thank you.

Born in East Kent in 1970, Martin Pond was educated at the University of East Anglia. A career in IT followed, and continues to pay the bills. In 2007 Martin made a hesitant return to fiction, not having written seriously since his student days. He returned to UEA too, and took a diploma in Creative Writing.
Martin’s stories have appeared in Unthology No 1, Streetcake magazine and Alliterati magazine, whilst three poems have appeared in The Artillery Of Words magazine.
Martin is currently working on a novel-length work, Drawn To The Deep End, and, as an experiment, is publishing the first draft, unedited, in weekly online instalments.
Martin’s first collection of short fiction, Dark Steps, was published in August 2011. A standalone short, Turn Around Where Possible, followed in January 2012.
http://martinpond.blogspot.com

First lines interview with author Ethan Jones

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1. Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?

The first line is very important to the reader. It should hook them to your story, perk up their interest, and make them feel like they have to read more of this work. The first line can be used as a compass to show the reader where you might be taking them: in a journey through an intriguing story that will captivate their imaginations and reward them with great entertainment.

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?

First lines are challenging. I end up changing them many times, before deciding on the final one. Many times I think and rethink the first line in my mind; I say it aloud and write it down, then read it again and change it often, until I am completely satisfied.

3. What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?

It may cost the author a reader, because if gives the wrong impression. If the author cannot write a great first line, the reader may think that the rest of the book will not be interesting. If the first line left the reader lukewarm, they may decide not to buy the book and not recommend it to a friend. They may choose to wait for a sale or borrow the book from a library.

4. What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?

I can’t really remember a great opening line and quote it word for word as the author wrote it. I would not do the author a favor if I paraphrased it. I have already wiped out of my memory the first worst lines.

5. What is one of your own best first lines?

My debut spy novel, Arctic Wargame, opens with these first lines:

The sand dunes sank into darkness as a curtain of clouds dimmed the glow of the crescent moon. Justin limped closer to the small barred window of his prison cell. His bruised chest pressed against the rough surface of the bloodstained wall.

My short story, Carved in Memory, which is a prequel to Arctic Wargame, begins with:

I opened my water-dripping eyes. My world had turned upside down. It took me a moment to realize I was hanging by my feet. I was tied to a large hook fastened to the dungeon’s ceiling. My hands were cuffed behind my back, and I was stripped of most of my clothes.

6. We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?

I don’t have those first lines anymore, because I have rewritten them. But I have had my fair share of worst first lines, and I am glad that only my beta readers had to suffer through reading them.

7. Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?

Always aim for a specific and intriguing first line. If your work is a murder mystery, do not tell me what the investigator is having for breakfast or how he just woke up. Start by telling me what just happened or is going to happen, i.e. the murder that will be investigated. If your work is a spy thriller, tell me what is the mission, the purpose of the characters. Give me something about the villain, the threat that must be stopped. Write it so that the reader will want to keep reading the next paragraph and the one after that. These are words of advice I have heard from more than one well-known author.

8. 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?

A first line should not be about unimportant aspects of the story, whatever those may be. It should not be boring, passive, and unnecessary. It is the moment where the writer and the author have their first contact. It should be exciting and impressive.

9. Do you have any final words?

Thanks for this opportunity and all the best to everyone trying to make it as a writer.

Ethan Jones is a lawyer by trade and the author of Arctic Wargame, a spy thriller available on Amazon as an e-book and paperback. He has also published two short stories: Carved in Memory, a prequel to Arctic Wargame, and The Last Confession, both available on Amazon as e-books. His second spy thriller, Tripoli’s Target, will be released in fall 2012. Ethan lives in Canada with his wife and his son.

Ethan is giving way ten free copies of his novel, Arctic Wargame, to some lucky, dedicated first line readers! In order to win yourself a copy leave a note in the comments here, or at Ethan’s site: http://ethanjones.blog.com. The first ten readers to leave a comment get a copy! 

First lines interview with author Sarah Billington

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1. Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?

Absolutely. There are SO many books out there to choose from, so many awesome sounding books, too. There’s a lot of competition for readers, and the best way for a reader to tell if your book is worth spending their money, their time and their emotions on, is to read a sample. Some readers sample from the last page (I could never do that, no matter how much I want to know that everything turns out okay), but 99% of readers will sample – or simply start reading – from the start. If the first lines are not interesting, well-written, or contain some sort of hook straight away, that might be as far as your reader gets before putting it down for good.
So yeah, what I’m saying is: No pressure, authors. No pressure at ALL.

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?

I don’t tend to write the first lines – or any lines – until I have a clear picture of what the scene looks like, what the protagonist’s point of view is, and what some form of opening conflict is. First lines can be easy and they can be hard for me. It depends on how complicated the opening scene is as to how hard it is to work out the exact moment when the reader should come in.

3. What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?

The worst consequence of all: Readers putting the book down. Not reading it, deciding that your writing – therefore your future writing as well – isn’t for them.

5. What is one of your own best first lines?

I have to say, I’m pretty happy with the first line of my newest book, The Kiss Off, which is

What rhymes with douchebag?

I think it sets the tone pretty well.

6. We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?

I think this one’s a bit of a clunker:

The wizard walked slowly around the crowded tower room.

Fascinating, don’t you think? *snore*

7. Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?

Drop your readers into the middle of a scene. Hit the ground running. This doesn’t work for ALL books, more literary books can need a slower build, but for most genre fiction I think this is a pretty solid rule.

8. 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?

First lines shouldn’t start at the start. They should start when something has, or is going wrong. They shouldn’t start when your protagonist wakes up, and they shouldn’t take you through mundane universal experiences, like getting out of bed and brushing your teeth and getting dressed. We don’t read for that. We LIVE that.

Sarah Billington is an Australian writer and editor who likes to write stories with love, laughs, suspense and zombies. Sometimes all in the same story. Her favouritest thing to write about are those horrendously awkward moments that come with being a teenager. Or a human being. Sarah was extremely accident-prone and klutzy as a kid and teen, so her cup runneth over with experiences of horrendously awkward moments to draw from in her writing. Thankfully, she has grown out of her klutziness. Mostly. She is, however, still an embarrassment.

She loves a variety of random things, which include doggies (hers as well as yours), Swing Dancing, Ice Hockey, Roller Derby and she is a bit obsessive about paranormal investigation shows and channel E!. She writes light-hearted works under Sarah Billington, and darker, scarier and more torturous stories under her pen name, Edwina Ray.

She also runs an editing, cover design and author website design business Billington Media.

Sarah’s new young adult novel, The Kiss Off, about a sixteen-year-old, Poppy who uploads a song to Youtube chronicling her heartbreak due to a cheating ex and finds her emotional dirty laundry in the spotlight as the song goes global comes to ebook May 15, and paperback June 2012.

www.SarahBillington.weebly.com

www.EdwinaRay.weebly.com