In essay writing, they call it the Hook. In fiction, we’ll call it the First Line.
Different names, but they serve the same purpose. This is the first piece of your story that the audience is going to read. Whether that audience is someone from a publishing house considering your work or a potential fan, it’s important to draw them in right away. Alongside and eye-catching title and an engaging premise, this is the best way to catch your reader’s attention. There are many ways for a good first line to be written. It’s all about picking what works best for your story and its starting point.
A good first line can do and be many things. It can drop the reader into the protagonist’s hometown in spring. It can throw the reader into intense action. It can introduce a protagonist. It can be dramatic. It can be funny. It can be long and flowing, with beautiful structure and melodious language. It can be short. Simple. The trick is to surprise the reader make them laugh, or have them wonder what could possibly be going on.
Here are just a few lines that I think are great, and why I think so.
“At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.” –The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
I love this line for many reasons. First, it gives us our first introduction to the world we’re about to enter. We get a glimpse of how the calendar works, learn the name of two deities, learn the name of the city the story takes place in, and get an idea of what kind of people we’ll be dealing with. Secondly, we get our first impression of one of our secondary characters. It makes the reader ask, “What kind of man is this Thiefmaker, selling children to priests?” Finally, this guy is selling a child to an eyeless priest. That’s definitely worth reading further in!
“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”—Blood Rites by Jim Butcher.
The first time I read this line I laughed aloud. It’s short, sweet, and tell the reader a fairly important factor about the protagonist. Now, this line doesn’t come from the first book in the series, so anyone reading it would likely already be familiar with the protagonist’s tendency to cause destruction. However, I think the implication of such a character trait may get across to anyone picking this book up for the first time. For me, the shortness of the line and the straight-forward humour is what makes this a favorite.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”—1984 by George Orwell.
Another type of good first line is a line that makes the reader do a double take. I don’t know what clock strikes past twelve, but giving the reader a mundane statement with an unusual twist is another good way to get them to read onward.
“Mr and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.
Of course I’d put a Potter line here! While I didn’t have a good appreciation for first lines when Harry Potter came into my hands, I do like this one now. We get a good impression of what the Dursleys are like before we meet them, and you just know that everything is about to turn out not-normal for them at all.
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”—The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket.
I love Mr. Snicket’s prose, and this first line is an excellent example of it. You get a good impression of his narration style from this one line, as well as his brutal honesty. A reader must wonder what kind of writer advertises his book as having an unhappy ending.
These are merely five lines that I like. I could go on for hours on this subject, in truth. There are many books and many good first lines. Some are classics and stand the test of time. Some are an example of modern talent. I encourage you readers to go and look up some of the lists I’ve seen.
What are some first lines you enjoy, readers?