The first line in a book is arguably the most important. This single line introduces the reader to your style of writing, your way of phrasing, and your storytelling ability. Based on this line, they instantly decide if they are intrigued enough to keep reading.
Most writing books will tell you that your first line needs to hook the reader. Some suggest that your book should begin in the middle of something important and give the reader no choice but to come along and see what happens next. Others recommend the first line to be so strong in its description or idea, that the thoughts or feelings it provoke makes reader unable to just walk away.
One of my favorite reference books is Making Shapely Fiction. Page 92 offers this advice about beginnings:
“Remember, begin with tension and immediacy. Make readers feel the story has started. They want to be in your world, not be told about it. Don’t preface—plunge in.”
So for today’s writing inspiration, I grabbed 12 random books and will share only the first line. I won’t print the title or author because I don’t want them to distract from judging the book solely on its first line. (Below are the books I used.)
“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?'”
“I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.”
“I was in the fifth grade the first time I thought about turning thirty.”
“The light hadn’t even officially turned green at the intersection of 17th and Broadway before an army of overconfident yellow cabs roared past the tiny deathtrap I was attempting to navigate around the city streets.”
“I am sure that if I sat in a quiet place, away from the palace and the bustle of the court, I could remember scenes from my childhood much earlier than six years old.”
“My life—my real life—started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and yes, I know how that sounds.”
“The trial was irretrievably over; everything that could be said had been said, but he had never doubted that he would lose.”
“The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet drive.”
“The last drops of the thunderstorm had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut-tree into the middle of the road.”
“A throng of bearded men, in sad colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others barefaced, was assembled in front of the wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.”
“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
Each first line is so different but each one makes me want to keep reading. Each author made it feel like the story had already started and I was invited to come along. Their writing is clear, precise, and gives you the feeling that the author is in command of telling this story.
Reading other peoples work always inspires me. Now I’m excited to go rework my first line and make sure it matches up to these. If your first line is already in great condition, why not go rework the first lines to each of your chapters and make sure they up to par too.
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