As I move through the revision process of my current W.I.P., I am again haunted by the dreaded First Line. Without a doubt it is that magical first line that makes you want to read the second, third fourth, etc., all the way up to page 482, or wherever the book ends.
So, here I am, once more, asking myself, and you, what makes a great first line? Is it something funny? “If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it.” The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck. A question that begs for an answer?"Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." Charlotte's Web, E.B. White. Or maybe something mysterious? On the third night, the day after her father died, Liesl saw the ghost. Liesl & Po, Lauren Oliver. What makes a first line stand the test of time to become a classic? Call me Ishmael. — Moby-Dick, Herman Melville(1851)
First lines come with no pressure at all: They're like chess, screw up the first line, screw up the book. See? No pressure at all *biting nails* Of course a great first line must be followed up with a bunch of other great lines so you don't create what some agents call the ten page drop off. This occurs when the author polishes the first ten pages, (because that's what most agents/editors ask to see), until they shine like a new diamond, then rush through the other 500 or so pages, leaving the reader sorely disappointed with the story.
I think the first line must come from your heart. It must envelop the entire flavor of your story from the first word, to the last. To me, the first line is like the first taste. When a reader picks up your book, they are looking for something. It could be something funny, or mysterious, or haunting, but they are looking for something. They are looking for words that match the cover. Just like when I venture into Baskin Robbins, I want ice cream, not pizza.
When the reader flips to the first page, and prepares to feast with their eyes, they want it to taste like what they ordered. If I order Rocky Road, I want to taste chocolate, nuts and marshmallows, not strawberries and cream. Also, I think the first line must be honest, true to the story, the entire story, all the way to the last page. You can't give them an awesome first line about ice cream, then write a story about pizza.
I believe that is what makes a great first line. A line that gives the reader what they hoped for when they pulled your book off the shelf.
Of course, these are just the musings of an aspiring author. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well as your favorite first lines.
If this post peaked your interest in great first lines, check out this list of the 100 best opening lines for children's books.
P.S. Be sure to stop by next Wednesday, when I'll be sharing my thoughts on great closing lines.