In the Beginning…First Lines of a Book

I don’t know about you, but I love great first lines. First lines that intrigue or challenge, that captivate and spark strong emotion or curiosity. Some writers spend hours, even days crafting that perfect first line to draw readers into the book. For others, the line is just…there.

A group of author friends loves to play the first-line game, where we share the first line from our WIPs. I like to ask people to share first lines from books that captured them. Both exercises are great fun. More than that, though, it’s fascinating to see what captures or intrigues people. It’s a great way to gain insight into your readers.

So what do you say? Wanna play?

First, let’s share first lines we loved from books we have read. Here are some of my favorites:

“It was Nathan’s fault that I became God.” 

The God Game, Andrew Greeley

“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”

The Princess Bride, William Goldman

“We all know something’s wrong.”

Crazy Love, Francis Chan

“Good is the enemy of great.”

Good to Great, Jim Collins

“The family trip when our nightmare began was supposed to be a celebration.”

Heaven Is For Real, Todd Burpo/Lynn Vincent

Okay, YOUR turn! 

41 Responses to In the Beginning…First Lines of a Book

  1. JennyM May 16, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”
    The Hobbit JRR Tolkien

  2. Timothy Fish May 16, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    I’m sure this doesn’t fit the intent of this post, but this is one of my favorite first lines of all time because of the excitement in the writer’s voice about what he experienced and what he is about to share:

    That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life
    (for the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that Eternal Life, which was with the Father and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

  3. TC Avey May 16, 2012 at 4:28 am #

    Crazy Love is a great book!

  4. Heidi Chiavaroli May 16, 2012 at 5:25 am #

    “Alex Stafford was just like Mama said.”

    Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers

    :)

  5. Mary Young May 16, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    Haven’t used this one yet, but I love it (2 lines, sorry)….

    “I had a very happy childhood until I was 38. Then I started actually remembering it.”

    One that I *have* used, that got me excited when it came to my mind, is…

    “Wrestle with a tiger, and you get hurt.”

  6. C.J. Chase May 16, 2012 at 5:53 am #

    “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

    The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

    • Jeanne May 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      I was going to use that one too. :)

    • JennyM May 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

      Brilliant line.
      I knew a kid WAY back who’s real last name was “Freakly”.

    • Amanda Dykes May 23, 2012 at 7:47 am #

      Love that one.

  7. Michelle Lim May 16, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    “Dynamite.” (Negotiator – Dee Henderson)

    “The night was a chameleon.” (What Lies Within – Karen Ball)

    “Never wager unless you control the stakes.” (Submerged – Dani Pettrey)

    “She heard it before she felt it.” (A Heart Revealed – Julie Lessman)

    “She is absolutely stunning, the woman standing in front of me wearing my wedding dress.” (Blue Heart Blessed – Susan Meissner)

  8. Davalynn Spencer May 16, 2012 at 6:16 am #

    Keryn Wills was in the shower when she figured out how to kill “Josh Trenton.” Double Vision by Randall Ingermanson

    “Valkerie woke up screaming.” Oxygen by John B. Olson and Randall Ingermanson

  9. Davalynn Spencer May 16, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    Pardon the misplaced quote above.

  10. Sybil Bates McCormack May 16, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    George Eliot wrote, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” The book, of course, is “Middlemarch,” and it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

  11. Nancy B. Kennedy May 16, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    “Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that.”
    ― Garrison Keillor, Pontoon

  12. Robin Patchen May 16, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

    If the point of a first line is to pique your curiosity, this one fits the bill. Good book, by the way, if you like secular literary fiction. And it happens to take place in my home state of New Hampshire, which is an additional selling point for me.

  13. Diana Harkness May 16, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    The first 3 sentences of my (as yet) unpublished novel: I shuffled to the edge of the cliff, tempted to keep moving, to push on and over, and to fulfill the intention that had brought me here, to this place, to this mountain. My feet stopped at the brink. I gazed at the rushing stream far below, imagining, for a second, the cool water washing over me, finally cleansing me, making me whole.

  14. Michelle Sutton May 16, 2012 at 7:00 am #

    Here are some from my to-be-read pile that are quite intriguing.

    I remember…I was supposed to be sad that day. The Discovery by Dan Walsh

    The Vreelands watched her die. One Step Away by Eric Wilson.

    It was the last thing I had expected to see. The Messenger by Siri Mitchell.

    Cattle herded easier than cowboys any day. Cowgirl Trail by Susan Page Davis.

    “Please…let me go.” The Forgiven Duke by Jamie Carie.

    Seven minutes inside a hotel room with a total stranger; that’s become my life. Collision by Stefne Miller.

    The warning came too late. The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper by Kathleen Y’Barbo.

    • Heather May 16, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      I reviewed The Discovery for The Christian Manifesto. It’s entertaining.

  15. Lindsay Harrel May 16, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    Fun game!

    “IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
    -Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

    • JennyM May 16, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      LOVE this one!! It sets up the whole story, doesn’t it?

  16. Timothy Fish May 16, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    “As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was
    a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.”
    The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan

  17. Aaron McCarver May 16, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    Dickens did some wonderful first lines. Everyone knows “It was the best of time, it was the worst of times…” from “A Tale of Two Cities” and I love “Marley was dead: to begin with.” from “A Christmas Carol.” I have to mention the one my co-author, Diane Ashley, came up with for our book “Camellia” which releases December: “Jonah Thornton did not want to die.”

    • Timothy Fish May 16, 2012 at 10:26 am #

      I always liked the first line of A Tale of Two Cities because, in my copy, we have to turn the page before we see anything that resembles a period.

  18. Erin Taylor Young May 16, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    Aaron, dude, it must be our same name thing, but I was going to post that Dickens Christmas Carol line myself. Love it.

    Here’s a great opener from Avi’s Newbery Honor book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle:

    “Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.”

    And here’s Jean Webster’s fun voice in Daddy-Long-Legs (This book was made into several movies including the 1955 movie starring Fred Astaire):

    “The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day–a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage, and forgotten with haste.”

    • Amanda Dykes May 23, 2012 at 7:50 am #

      Erin, I love Daddy Long Legs (the book more than the movie)! Have you read its sequel, Dear Enemy? Wonderful.

  19. Diana Harkness May 16, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    The first lines from my (yet unpublished) novel: I shuffled to the edge of the cliff, tempted to keep moving, to push on and over, and to fulfill the intention that had brought me here to this place, to this mountain. He had finally deserted me; there was nothing left. My feet stopped at the brink. I gazed at the stream far below, imagining, for a second, the cool water washing over me, finally cleansing me.

  20. Michael Duncan May 16, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    “I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street.” (C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”).

    And… (a bit self-serving) :)

    “All was dark.” (M. Duncan’s “Shadows: Book of Aleth, Part One”).

  21. Susan Gregory May 16, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met so-and-so…was the best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon of my life.” Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

  22. Jonathan May 16, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    The first line of my WIP is:
    “No matter what form it takes, travel is trouble.”

    An aspect alluded to in my WIP is from The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges which has a first line I love:
    “On the burning February morning Beatriz Viterbo died, after braving an agony that never for a single moment gave way to self-pity or fear, I noticed that the sidewalk billboards around Constitution Plaza were advertising some new brand or other of American cigarettes.”

    I love JLB’s wordiness, but it is a good line, too. He has one sentence that has over 400 words in it later in the work.

  23. Ruth Douthitt May 16, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    “He was a great thundering paradox of a man…” -American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur

    Great first line to a GREAT book!

  24. Jennifer Dyer May 16, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    I haven’t used it yet, but: “They sat in their usual corner booth, drinking coffee, and discussed where to hide the body.”

  25. Karen Ball May 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    These are wonderful! Keep ‘em coming–and thanks for playing!

    Then stay tuned! We’ll share our own first lines next week.

    Karen

  26. Jeanne May 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    How fun to read all these first lines. I’ve got a few from books I’ve enjoyed.

    “It was on a cold January night when the unthinkable, unpardonable happened.” ~Francine Rivers, Atonement Child

    “For two hours a night, Monday through Saturday, Isadora Presley became the girl she’d lost.” ~Susan May Warren, My Foolish Heart

    This last is such a long first line, but I love the things you discover about the character described. :)

    “Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place se would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.” ~L.M. Mongomery, Anne of Green Gables

    • JennyM May 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      Holy cow, that line is bigger than all of Prince Edward Island!!!

      And Jeanne, one of my most proud moments was when my MIL and I got KICKED OUT OF GREEN GABLES!!! That’s right. We were asked to leave.
      Me and my 75 year old , deaf mother in law got busted for sitting down on the fainting couch in the kitchen. She was SO tickled to be a felon.

      • Jeanne T May 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

        Funny, Jenny! I have yet to visit PEI. Lucky you and your mom, even if you did get kicked out of Green Gables. :)

      • JennyM May 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

        Jeanne, we still talk (well, sign) about it, 12 years later! I had to explain, in front of the lady who was kicking us out, to my deaf MIL that we were bad girls. We decided since we were already in trouble, we were going to walk past the ropes and stand in the forbidden flower zones. It was like an episode of COPS, only with sign language and an old lady.

  27. Kurt Bubna May 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    I can be such an idiot. Really, by the most common definition of the word, I qualify. Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned the hard way.

  28. Karen Ball May 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Kurt, what book is that first line from?

    • Kurt Bubna May 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      Hummmm…this would be an example of someone (me) NOT following directions regarding quoting the first line from a book I’ve read! It’s actually the first line from MY book/manuscript entitled: Epic Grace ~ Chronicles of an Idiot. (A fitting subtitle in view of my mistake!) Sorry…. :)

  29. Linda Truesdell May 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    It’s sad to say, but if the first line doesn’t get me, I’m not going much further. Here are a few of my favorites:
    “In Beulah Iowa,widow women all over town garden in the clothes of deceased husbands.” Dwelling Places, Venita Hampton Wright.
    “Thousands of seasons of deciduous rot in the sandstone ridges of this Ohio valley yielded wheat fields that brought farmers begging to buy Brubaker land.” This Heavy Silence by Nicole Mazzarella.
    “The first time she saw the members of the Persian Pickle Club, Rita told me after I got to know her, she thought we looked just like a bunch of setting hens.” The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas.
    “The air was moist, the coming rain telegraphed by plump, gray clouds and the blue sky fast fading. ” Wish You Well, David Baldacci
    “He made his way to the lake watchfully, crossing the bulldozer built dam that was covered in weed grass, across the ridge and in the trash trees growing on the water side.” The Valley of Light, by Terry Kay
    “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    “On a small farm outside of Struan there lived a beautiful woman.” The other side of the bridge by Mary Lawson
    “The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day.” A painted House by John Grisham
    Everyone of those seems to invite me in to see what is going on. I spend a lot of time thinking about that first line and change it several times.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What’s MY Line? (First Lines – part two) | The Steve Laube Agency - May 23, 2012

    [...] loved reading your favorite first lines last week. Isn’t it amazing how the right first line sets the stage, how it can pull readers out of reality [...]

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