Sunday, July 7, 2013

Killer First Lines

I’m taking an editing workshop right now with the fabulous Candace Havens, and one of the topics is first lines. Does the first line of a novel draw you in? Do you read it and laugh out loud, cringe in horror, or wince in pain? Or when you read that first line, do you already start to nod off to dream land?

Some of the elements of a killer first line include voice, setting, hint of a conflict, or an emotional reaction. I know when I start a new book I like a strong voice in the opening sentence. I want to connect with the main character as quickly as possible. Long, descriptive sentences showing the setting, or random dialogue usually lose me a bit. Openings like that don't mean I won't read on, they just don't have much impact on me. 

Miss Snark’s First Victim recently had a critique session on first lines that was great. Entrants submitted just the first sentence of their MS and critiquers gave a simple yes or no response. 

Now, not every novel has a killer first line. In fact, when I pulled out some of my absolute favorite books, the first sentence was kind of a bore. So if you don’t have that totally awesome, fantastic, unbelievable first sentence, don’t fret. However, having that element gives you a better shot of grabbing an agent's attention. 

I thought I’d share the first sentence of a bunch of books I have on my Kindle. I randomly picked out a few I’ve already read and some from my TBR list. A couple of these cracked me up and some definitely intrigued me enough to want more. What about you?

When had thigh-highs become required jewel heist garb? – LUCK OF THE DRAGON by Susannah Scott

It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since scientists perfected a cure. – Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I’m in a slump, off my game, throwing up bricks, swinging and missing. – The Collector by Victoria Scott

Holy Mary, mother of God, the man was half-naked. – Suddenly Beautiful by Boone Brux

I’m not the fun girl in my group of friends. – We are Made of Stardust by Mimi Strong

Lashing out, I jerked the power cord out of the wall, but it was too late. – Amethyst by Heather Bowhay

My blood itched for a fight. – Apollyon by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Shoving a strand of straggling blond hair aside, Sera balanced her books in her arms as she searched for her keys. – AWAKENED by Brenda K. Davies

So what do you think? Did you read a line above and want more? If you were an agent, would any of these examples stand out? What are some of your favorite lines? Share in the comments below. You can even share your first line and get some feedback. 


  1. Oh, what a good topic! I love first lines!

    One of my favorites -- potentially my absolute favorite -- is from "The Vanishing of Katharina Linden" by Helen Grant:

    "My life might have been so different had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded."

    It's perfect.

    1. Oh wow! I haven't read that, but the first line makes me want to read more! Definitely one that works! It's got voice, conflict, and sets the tone! Love it.

    2. That is very intriguing.

  2. I love first lines in a book. I actually pay a lot of attention to those. My favourite out of the ones you mentioned is Suddenly Beautiful. It's intriguing, if somewhat hilarious too (I don't know what the book is about though)

    My least favourite would be Delirium. I actually read the book, and while the first line is intriguing, there's a lot of info dumping. I mean the whole idea could have beenintroduced in a much subtler way. Like Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave. He gave an entire background story starting with the phrase "Aliens are stupid." it then goes on to explain a lot of things, but it doesn't feel like info dumping.

    Great post btw!

    1. I love the Suddenly Beautiful line. It cracked me up. I just picked it up, so it's in the TBR list. I'll have to post a review when I'm done.

      I love the Alien one. That is great and makes me want to read more. I love an author that can say a lot in very few words.

      Maybe Delirium could have been more fun starting with something like "Love sucks, so the government cured it." Or something like that.

  3. Luck of the Dragon and Delirium sound good!

    I'm going to have to search through my favorite book first lines, or maybe just my kindle books.

    I like killer first lines, but more importantly I want the first paragraph to draw me in, and I'm not fond of lengthy descriptions for a start either.


    1. Yes! Bring some back :) It's funny, quite a few of the books I checked had a really long, descriptive sentence that was more of a paragraph. Major turnoff. Of course, they were books I liked in the end. I'm surprised LOL.

  4. Those are some great examples. :) I think first lines are the hardest. Oh, and last lines. ;)
    One of my favorite first lines is from Ellen Foster. "When I was little I used to think up ways to kill my daddy."

    1. Oooo another good one! That says so much! I love the voice in it and the darkness. Another book I would totally read just based off of the first sentence!

  5. I thought this one was pretty interesting from Stephen King's The Stand:
    Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

    Or from my personal fave of his, The Dead Zone:
    The two things Sarah remembered about that night later were his run of luck at the Wheel of Fortune and the mask.

    The Dead Zone line creeped me out and definitely set the tone for the book

  6. With ebooks, first lines are especially important now. Back in the good ole days (!!) I would open a glue and paper book and thumb to the middle. If I liked the dialogue, I bought it. Now it is so much harder to decide.

    1. You know, I never thought of it that way. But you are so right. I've been one to flip around a bit too. Kind of check the writing out, make sure it's tight and not full of pages and pages of description. Can't do that with an ebook. Although some so have the option to check out the first few pages on Amazon and the likes. Still not the same and not all books offer it either. Very good point!