The Importance of a Great First Line

Dear readers:

Today, we DSCN0875share some responses to a Facebook question: Please share a favorite first line from your book or someone else’s. Kate Flora lead off with the opening line from Led Astray: Burgess wished he could have slapped the little shit silly.

What makes a first line work? What draws you in? Please add your favorites in the comments, and keep an eye on our weekend updates and our Facebook page, where interesting questions for you may pop up.

Terrie Moran First line of Well Read, Then Dead: “Oh, pu-leeze, Rowena, Anya Seton never measured up to Daphne du Maurier’s elegance. I’m shocked you would say such a thing.” Jocelyn Kendall, pastor’s wife and book club gadfly, crossed and recrossed her legs in perfect tempo with the ever-increasing meter of her rant.

Dottie MacKeen Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father. Bluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke

IMG_1307Earl Brechlin The light is different in the north, far above Bangor, up beyond Greenville in the realm of townships with numbers rather than names, where moose outnumber people, where thundering double-trailer logging trucks reign supreme on tracks of dirt, dust billowing behind them like the wake of a nameless ship fading across the surface of a deep and unexplored sea. (Earl didn’t attribute this, but inquiry reveals it is from a forthcoming book of his nonfiction)

Sandra Neily “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mom as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Charlotte’s Web, E.B.White

Mary Ellen Hughes First line of Scene of the Brine: Bang!

Rick Helms First line from VICAR BREKONRIDGE: “Had Edward Drummond worn a thicker, heavier overcoat, he might have lived.”

Joyce Tremel First line from TO BREW OR NOT TO BREW, the first book in the Brewing Trouble series: “If looks could kill, the plumbing inspector giving me the bad news would have been in big trouble.”

Hank Phillippi Ryan From Air Time: It’s never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying.

Les Roberts First line of my first novel, An Infinite Number of Monkeys: My ficus benjamina was dying.

Valerie Lentz Horowitz “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!” (Amy, Little Women.)

Robert Lopresti “On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the last wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadn’t ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.”Russell Hoban, RIDDLEY WALKER

LynDee Stephens Walker Julia Spencer-Fleming still holds my “best first line ever” trophy. From IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER: “It was a hell of a night to throw away a baby.”

Polly Iyer From Hooked: If Linc rated high-priced call girls on a scale of one to ten, 877642Tawny Dell would score a twelve.

Katie Caprero “I poisoned your drink” from Duane Swierczynski “The Blond”

Gretchen Asam How about Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers? “I was in bed with my catamite when the archbishop came to call.”

Vicki Lane From my ART’S BLOOD — second of the Elizabeth Goodweather books. “I still see the bed — its wide white expanse floating like a snowy island on the deep pearly carpet — the creamy tufted silk coverlet neatly folded back — the soft heaped pillows, their pale lace soaked and stiff with her blood.”

Laurie Graves From my own “Maya and the Book of Everything”: “The first time Maya Hammond saw the man who didn’t smile, she and her mother, Lily Turcotte, were on a train going from Boston to New York.”

Susannah Charleson From my next book, Puzzle wakes me with her going.
A favorite by someone else: Erik Larsen’s DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITYHow easy it was to disappear: A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago.


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4 Responses to The Importance of a Great First Line

  1. From my own short story “Daybreak Dismay in Dallas” I’m particularly partial to:

    “It’s not like I’d never seen a severed head before.”

  2. judyalter says:

    From my own The Perfect Coed: Susan Hogan drove around Oak Grove, Texas, for two days before she realized there was a dead body in the trunk of her car. And it was another three days before she knew that someone was trying to kill her.

  3. Jane Nelson says:

    Valerie already mentioned one of my favorites. Two others that come to mind are “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; and “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”, from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

  4. Joyce Tremel says:

    Thanks for including a line from one of my books! Here’s the first line of my upcoming release, Front Page Murder written under my pen name Joyce St. Anthony. “Pop taught me a lot about the newspaper business. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell me the sentence I’d hear most often was, “That’s not how your father would do it.””

    My favorite first line is from The Winter of Her Discontent by Kathryn Miller Haines. “Some guys brought you flowers; Al brought meat.” I miss this series so much!

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