Friday, December 08, 2006

First Lines

Any writer, reader, or editor will tell you how important first lines are. It is the first taste of the book, the first chance to pull the reader in. And for me, the first line is usually the first thing I think of when I begin a writing project. Because I was curious, and I had an hour to kill before work, I thought I'd go through my book shelf and pick out some books with great first lines. See if you can guess who wrote it and click on the quote to see if you're right!

"I understand now that innocence is relative." Immediately, I want to know why the character thinks that and why they didn't until now.

"When I was seven, I was plucked from my uneventful life deep in darkest Massachusetts and dropped into a Tang Instant Breakfast Drink commercial." The thing I love about this line, is it gives a sense of the author's voice. Immediately, I know it's going to be humorous and sarcastic. The line also evokes quite an intriguing image.

"The old lady had changed her mind about dying but by then it was too late." Clearly, this line draws the reader into the novel, knowing that this old lady is going to die. But the writer chose, instead of opening with her death, to get inside the lady's head and give her final thoughts.

"If you're going to read this, don't bother." I don't think anyone would listen to the narrator's request and put the book down. The second person point of view addresses the reader and creates an urgent need to read on.

And last, by far my favorite first line ever:

"When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter." In just 12 words, we know that the protagonist has been shot, that there will be another bullet coming, that he has a daughter. Fantastic.

Feel free to comment with your favorite first lines as I'm sure there are plenty out there that I failed to mention.


Darwyn Jones said...

One of my favorite first lines of all time is from Katherine Dunn's Geek Love:
"When your Mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing. 'Spread your lips, sweet Lil', they'd cluck, 'and show us your choppers!'"

(okay, I gave you two sentences - sue me.)

Quinn said...

I still have a soft spot in my heart for the opening line of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."

Middlesex also has a good one:

"I was born twice; first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."