Sunday, January 23, 2011

First Lines

This past week I was showing some wonderful people around Dubai. One of the them was the head of marketing at a major publisher and we were talking book covers and first pages. I spoke about my habits of watching people in book stores - a bit of a stalker I am. I look at what draws them to books....covers - then what happens. First the blurb on the back then the first page but in truth the first line.

I was listening to Jeffrey Deaver this past week and he was talking about our job as writers...we owe it to our readers that from the first line through everyone there after to entertain and pull the reader through the story to the end.

So I took a random selection off my bookshelf and looked at the first lines....

1. Okay, so finding a naked man in her bed wasn't that unusual.
2. Last night, when the third gin and tonic finally knocked the sharp edges off my day, I dared to look in the mirror.
3. When the east wind blows up the Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shore.
4. When I was little, the great mystery to me wasn't how babies were made, but why.
5. I, Hassan the son of Muhammad the weigh master, I, Jean-Leon de Medici, circumcised at the hand of a barber and baptized at the hand of a pope, I am now called the African, but I am not from African, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia.

I think it's easy to guess the genre of the novels and in some cases the authors. Four out of five raise a question and one sets a scene... A first line draws a reader in, sometimes encapsulates a whole book. It is the writer saying follow me and I will give you pleasure, take you away, teach you, scare you but ultimately entertain you. I will enrich your life with a my tale for a the hours that you give it to me....

Help! That's a big task and that first line, opening paragraph, first page is ultimately a promise, a glimpse of what is to follow. So what is your favorite first line? If you are a writer do you sweat over it? Is it written first or last?

The first lines above are from:-

1. LOVE POTIONS by Christina Jones
2. OLD SCHOOL TIES by Kate Harrison
3. FRENCHMAN'S CREEK by Daphne Du Maurier
4. MY SISTER'S KEEPER by Jodi Piccoult
5. LEO THE AFRICAN by Amin Maloof

Please come by on Thursday to see what Biddy has to say....


  1. I quite often write a first page and then discover that my real first line is buried somewhere in paragraph three, and I have to cut all the stuff that came before it.

  2. Does that happen when you've finished the first draft or part way through the page or book?


  3. An interestign post, Liz.

    My favourite opening sentence is this, from The Towers of Trebizond by Rose McCaulay:

    "Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.


  4. Frances - I need to get that book. I am instantly intrigued.

  5. I like - nice post, Liz!

    The first line of my current WIP is, "The room is crowded and dark." But it may change - like Julie says, the right first line is often buried a little...

    But I don't often sweat it, really. I never read the first line of a book to see if I like it. For me it's title, blurb, then I flick through and pick a page at random in the first few chapters - if I like the voice, no-one's saying anything stupid and there's nothing that makes me roll my eyes, then I'm good! *g*

  6. Very interesting, Liz! I find that it varies from book to book - sometimes it takes me ages to get the first line right, with others it just kind of happens automatically.

    As for books I read, I'm with Anna - I read the title and blurb and if I'm still unsure, the ending to see if it's a HEA. The first line doesn't matter that much to me.

  7. Great post. I don't remember first lines but I do read the start of book just to check I'm intrigued.

    Liz - when you get the book Frances mentioned I get it after you!

    My current first line of my prologue is
    'This isn’t the way I planned to spend my sixteenth birthday - becoming a virgin sacrifice.'

    Which Julie helped me re-write so it was more punchy. But will I keep a prologue? Who knows!

    The first line of the first chapter is:
    'Black wasn’t the best colour to wear in a hot August in Cumbria.'

    I still like my beginning to my novella which starts:
    'Jessica Marley was dead: to begin with.'
    Sound familiar?

  8. Liz, I usually revise my first page after I've written the entire book. For me, there's no point otherwise.

    The current first line of my wip (a contemporary) is "There's something about a man in tight breeches with a neckcloth tied up to his chin." But I've been asked to add a scene before that, so it won't be the first line any more.