First Lines

7:00 AM



Once upon a time, I entered Kingdom Pen's Begin Your Novel Contest. And then won third place with the first 150 words of my novel Pariah. So yeah, that happened.

Anyway. The whole point of that bit of bragging up there (besides the fact that I'm pretty pleased with myself, so whatever) is the fact that in preparing for the contest I had to really think about story beginnings - about how to hook readers with something fascinating, and the importance of first sentences, and where to start, and so on.

For me, the first line is a huge part of that. That's the first thing readers see, after all. It's the thing that starts the story, that makes them want to keep reading. If I read a boring or bad first line/first paragraph, chances are I won't want to continue that book. (For me, at least. Some people struggle through no matter what. Good for you.)

So what makes a good first sentence? 


Or, I didn't know, for a while. So I went through my lovely bookshelf and looked at the very first lines of some of my favorite books there, to compare what's good and what's iffy about them, and what captures my interest and what doesn't, and so on.

I could just go on and on about what I think makes a good first line. But I'm not an expert for the most part at all, and I love me some examples, so we're going to use some of my favorite first lines and talk about why I think they work. 

First sentences that introduce you to the setting:

You'll see this a lot in fantasy. These kinds of beginnings start with an introduction to the world, so you get your bearings. These aren't my favorites, although I do think you should ground readers within the first few paragraphs. 


I do happen to like this one, though. In just one sentence you get an idea of where this character is at, and therefore where the reader is. It's a good description, too - you can almost feel the cold darkness and smell the air. Personally, I usually only like these if the setting is really unusual, though. 


First sentences that introduce you to the character:

Preferably the main character, too. You want to meet this main character at the very beginning, don't you? These are the kinds of sentences that throw this person at you immediately. 

*fangirls because favorite book ever* 

This one is first person! It's not one of those "hi, my name is *name here* and I'm special", like some of these, but it's immediately introducing you to the character - in this case, the wonderful Darrow. It sets the tone, giving you an idea of the character. It also brings up questions. What are the other things we should know about him? Who is his father? What's the significance? Go read this book. I'm serious.



This one is third person. It gives us the setting - probably fantasy, because of those odd names and titles - and brings up plenty of questions of its own. What's so special about this princess with the long name? I love the way the sentence flows, too. So. Pretty. 


Bizarre First Sentences: 


These are my favorite. 


What??? Cinder's ankle has a screw in it? ??????? This gets your attention immediately, which is always good. 


Two things grab you in this sentence. 1. The dog is talking. THE DOG CAN TALK. 2. The grammar is atrocious. What kind of character is this? (I really love this book, by the way. *fangirls*) 


Dialogue First Sentences:


Who is Ariana? Who is she talking to? Surviving until eighteen? 

First sentences that address the reader:


This only really works with certain styles of books, but Lemony Snicket pulls it off well. Right away, you're intrigued. There's not going to be a happy ending, which means the book will probably be depressing, but it's also told in such a quirky way that you immediately get a grasp on the humor, too. WIN. 

And finally... 

Attention-grabbers: 


I don't know, these always just fit into a certain category for me. They're short, they're sweet, and they're totally epic. (If you've read Steelheart I would like you to know that yes, that pun is totally intentional.) The whole point of these is to punch you right in the face and get your attention. 

So yeah, first lines are kind of important. The cool thing about them is, you can play around with it! You can mix some of these categories up into one epic sentence, as books often do. But interesting first sentences are key. 

What about you? What book has your favorite first sentence, and what is it? What kind of first sentence really gets your attention? Comment away.

24 comments

  1. AH! I do love me a wonderful first line, and these are great examples. My favorite first lines are either ones that give me a good idea of the character right away or bizarre first lines that completely grab my attention. There are so many first sentences that I love but one of them is "I am a coward", which comes from Code Name Verity. That line is so simple, yet so powerful.

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    1. Same here...I've got a fondness for odd ones, or lines with quirky characters especially.
      That...that is awesome o.0 I have that book on hold at the library, actually, and I keep hearing about it, so I'm way too excited about it. *flails*

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  2. Oh, yes, first lines are such an esoteric art. Oh my goodness, LEMONY SNICKET. His narration is spot-on perfect. And argh, I should really take Red Rising off the TBR and onto the reading list. Same goes for Cinder, really ... I'd actually add an extra category for "profound philosophical statement", like Pride and Prejudice's "a truth universally acknowledged" and The Go-Between's "the past is a foreign country". (I suppose those fit into setting/attention, but there's an element of philosophy that feels different to me? Ah well.)

    I personally don't really like dialogue first sentences, because I don't even know who's talking until halfway through the sentence. I think my style tends closer to bizarre/attention -- although I've written like 2 mss, so that's not really saying anything. XD

    Also, Pariah's first 150 is FABULOUS and I want more.

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    1. Lemony Snicket is basically my hero. I can't write like that (it's not my thing) but he's one of my favorite writers EVER. Like, how do you even be that witty and clever.
      *facepalm* I knew I was forgetting a category, and you're absolutely right. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites too so I should have thought of this. Thanks for bringing that up! That's a good category too, and an important one with a different sort of feel to it. *hands cookies*

      I'm iffy with those myself. I think it fits in some cases and not others, but I also like my beginnings to start right in the middle of the action and confuse me which most people find disorienting. *shrugs*

      Thank youuuuu! *blushes*

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  3. RED RISING YAS *flails* Also, The Knife of Never Letting Go. Reading about Manchee kind of makes me sad, though.
    I can spot in the corner of my screen that Alyssa already mentioned the fabulousness of Pariah's first 150, but I would definitely like to reiterate that. 'TIS FABULOUS. :)
    I think I towards the crazy first line thing no matter what I'm writing. I've had a lot of weird first lines...

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    1. ALL THE RED RISING. *fistbump for having read it because most people I know haven't* Oh, yeah, Manchee, too...allll the feels. *quiet crying*
      Awwww, thanks, you two! I am admittedly quite proud of it. xD I lean towards the bizarre lines, too - those are the most fun.

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  4. I love those first lines that just suck you into the book. For me if the first chapter isn't good I don't usually try slogging through the whole book--unless it's something by Charles Dickens (or another good author) that I know will get better later on. You really nailed it--the first line of the story is crucial.

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    1. Oh, yes. I have too many books to read to try and push through one I really don't care about, and I think the first chapter should do that.

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  5. This is a great post!

    I always love the crazy ones that make you wonder what in the world is going on. I can't bring to mind any specific first sentences. But I know I love The Book Thief's first scene. It's just captures you, the way Death is basically telling you the ending at the beginning of the story, but somehow you still want to know everything that happens in between. It's almost chilling when you realize what some of the colors he's talking about mean. I was like, "Oh!. . .Oooh."

    Cinder's was awesome too. Love that book!

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    1. Oh, yes, I remember being really intrigued at the beginning of The Book Thief, too, because...what even??? I wasn't a fan of the book itself, but it was a solid, interesting beginning.
      *flails because Cinder*

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  6. Oh I love all these examples. There are some amazing first sentences around. I love ones that introduce you to a quirky concept or character. Like the first sentence of The Lightning Thief which goes something like (and this is from memory so it won't be completely accurate "Look, I didn't ask to be the son of a Greek god." Character voice can be such a great tool in making a memorable first line in my opinion. I loved this post! Think I'm going to go share it on Facebook now.

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    1. I had the Lightning Thief up here as an example because it's so great, but then I wanted to play around with some less well known ones...but it's one of my favorites, too. It does such a lovely job of capturing Percy's POV right away, and pulling you in. I'm glad you enjoyed this!

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  7. One of my favourite first lines ever is "When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news." I think that would go in the attention-grabber category... :D

    Anyway, really good post and so helpful. I was having trouble with the opening in my WIP, and this post was a huge help. :)

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    1. Woah o.0 That one IS cool. I want to know moreeeee. xD And yes, I think that's where it would go, too. Short, sweet, and kind of slaps you in the face with its possibilities.

      Oh, I'm glad I could help! Best of luck!

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  8. These are some awesome examples. Now I want to go make note of my favorite books' first lines . . .
    (and congrats yet again on your win in that contest.) :D

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    1. You should try it - I had a ton of fun going through my bookshelf, admittedly. (And it took way too long.)

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  9. I approve of this whole post. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY THAT STEELHEART REFERENCE AND PUN AND FIRST SENTENCE. Mwhehehehehe I kinda love that book. :D :D

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    1. STEELHEART YAS. I do love that book so much. <3 That pun just kind of came up and I had to take the opportunity. I just had to.

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  10. YES! I love first sentences! It's not a deal breaker for me, but it definitely makes me love a book so so much more. I love the one in The Raven Boys, which basically says Blue is going to kill someone STRAIGHT UP. ha! It totally catches me. (Basically I just love everything Stiefvater, yes.) I have to admit, the only one I'm not fond of is the Cinder one. That one was SO confusing for me, I read it like nine times and still had no clue. XD Although I suppose that's the point, a bit??

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    1. Right? They're so much fun. xD RAVEN BOYSSSSS. Everything about those books is perfection, really, <3
      I can see how the Cinder one would be confusing, haha. I had to read it several times the first time too.

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  11. I only have read the Maze Runner out of these books *hides face* I especially like the one from Red Rising, it makes me want to read the rest- how is he his fathers son? Is that good or bad?

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    1. Oh, Opal, you must read ALL THE THINGS. *nods*
      Red Rising is amazing <3 Although, I should warn you, it's very brutal and rather vulgar at times, and I wouldn't recommend it to most people. *shrugs*

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  12. Oh, this is a gorgeous list. I'm going to be sentimental and say that I still love The Bad Beginning the best (lol) but you picked a lot of really, really great examples to highlight all your points. This is super useful; when I get back to my own first-line work, I'll keep trying to follow ideas based on this list!

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  13. I love this list! First sentences aren't always a deal breaker for me, but I do like to have my attention grabbed from the start. I haven't read Steelheart yet, but that first sentence is pretty exciting!

    There are some books that start out boring, but turn out great once you get into it, and there are some books that have exciting beginnings but fail to keep up the excitement after a while. So I guess it's important to keep up the pacing all through the story.

    Precious @ Clockwork Desires

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