Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Killer First Lines

I'm in the middle of editing my latest project, a YA paranormal tentatively titled UNLEASHED. I've enjoyed working on it and I feel I've got the basic structure down, the tension-filled first chapter, the relateable hero, the page-turning chapter endings, etc..

But what I don't have is a great first sentence. As it is now, it reads: "Claire opened the door to Bodian Dynamics, ignoring the puff of cold, chemical-smelling air, and walked inside to a pale green lobby." Boring! And too long for my taste. 

I'm in the camp that a novel's first sentence sets the tone for the entire story, and I love authors who pay special attention to this. I'll still read and enjoy books that don't do this, but I really appreciate the ones who take the time to tell me something in that one opening sentence.

A couple of my favorite first liners are:

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." The Graveyard Book.

"Where's Papa going with that axe?" Charlotte's Web.

I looked back at a few of my first sentences from previous projects and this is what I found:

"I always knew my father was a monster, but watching him torture someone other than me made me ill." The Devil's Fool. I like this one.

"Lucien stood, head tilted upwards in the center of a long alleyway between two abandoned warehouses." The Devil's Angel. I don't like this one. Needs work.

"My name is Mommy." Confessions of a Cereal Mother. Not bad. 

Now share some of your first liners. Do you like them? Do they need work?

More about first liners can be found on literary agent, Mary Kole's blog or in this article written by Christopher Jackson.


S. Kyle Davis said...

I'm pretty fond of mine:

"Note to self: a purple wedge, no matter how cute, is not appropriate foot attire for scaling the twentieth floor of your apartment building."
-A Midsomer Spy's Dream

ilima said...

The Graveyard Book has the best opening line (and scene) in any book I've read. Love it so much.

I agree on the importance of a first line and appreciate the effort a writer goes through to make it. Mine haven't always been so great. My current one is:

Male or female?

It's a question (tsk-tsk) and pretty vague, but after reading the next line, it makes total sense and spells out exactly what the book is about.

Carrie-Anne said...

Here are a couple of my favorite opening lines:

Justine feels like a failure as a modern woman.

In another lifetime, or another place at least, Amalia von Hinderburg would’ve been starting sixth grade, dreading menarche, developing a bustline, doing the things normal girls her age did.

Jakob DeJonghe had once a heart full of love and joy for the world, but now he was angry and bitter, and put up an iron wall all around his heart to prevent anyone from reaching him and getting too close to him.

Instead of walking to St. Basil’s Cathedral to marry his dream girl, Iván Ivánovich Konev is crying his eyes out in a broom closet. (I think this is my fourth version of the opening of my first Russian novel.)

Stephanie said...

I like mine. :P

Today I have to prove I deserve to stay alive. (EXTRACTION)

Blood stink filled the bayou, from kill festering in the water. (WIP)

Trisha Leaver said...

I agree. The opening sentence set the tone for the entire book whether it me dark and despairing or funny and light.

Rachel said...

You guys have great first sentences. It's motivating me to improve mine!

PurpleMist. said...

The Graveyard Book has the best first liner out of all the books I've read.

Just dropping by to say that I recently finished reading Fractured Light and loved it!
I'm going to write a proper review soon but I just wanted you to know that I can't wait for the sequel :)

-Arika R.