I’ve just become curious about books’ first lines and whether they truly indicate what is to come. After some consideration, I still don’t know the answer to that, but I have pulled together the first lines in all 16 of my published books. At least that was an interesting exercise.
- Grandfather Time – “Charlie hated mornings, due, in no small part, to his having the sleep habits of a caffeine-addicted owl.” This isn’t bad, and is better than, “Charlie awoke.”
- The Wanderling – “Charlie’s longboat pitched and yawed, rolled port and starboard, rose and fell, while the rest of the lagoon stood as serene as a glass sculpture.” This starts in the middle of a dream and sets the tone for the rest of the book.
- Mastery of All – “Charlie lay in the thick brush trying not to breathe as the padded footfalls crept closer.” I’m a better writer now, but it does start in the midst of action.
- Hard As Roxx – “The desert is a damned desolate place for a woman on a motorcycle and a baby in the sidecar, but it suited Roxx.” Perfect.
- The Juice and Other Stories – “The hazy air hung like funky dust, barely whispering enough of a breeze to clear the topmost layer of grit from the sidewalks.” Yeah, baby. The book starts with a Marilyn Monroe quote, but this is the real beginning.
- The Little Burgundy – “It was November before I realized she had begun to unravel the stitching from my life.” I like this one. It sets the mood for the narrative style in the book.
- The Brooklyn Trace – “I’d been driving all day, sucking in western Oklahoma road dust, and I wasn’t in the mood for any more damned mysteries.” My all-time favorite. In fact this is my favorite first paragraph too.
- Stories in Analog – “Old man Zacharias could smell the fetid stench of corruption whenever he left the sanctity of his tiny walk-up apartment.” An appropriate start to one of my favorite stories.
- Beyond the Farr Road – “I cannot adequately explain the great, gaping loneliness of space.” This start explains this book perfectly. Yay me.
- The Stubborn Life of Jessie Ed McKinney – “Some folks say Jesse Ed McKinney was born stubborn.” The first page as a whole gets you there, but this is a good place to start.
- Year 5601 – “Hello, dearest reader.” Nope. The second line (and start of a new paragraph) is better. “The cramped cubby that holds my desk opens to the expanse of the entire universe, the single factor that makes life at work bearable.“
- Bohemian Stars – “Danika Plotz first found her Way on 20 February 2014 at six minutes past one o’clock under cobalt skies tinged gray by her tears and the dying smoke of Molotov cocktails.” I can’t think of a better start to this book.
- Ordinary Dust – “I had known Mara, or at least the divine physical form that she secreted beneath her layers of drab cloth, for three months before I was able to convince myself that she was real.” This one is pretty much right on point.
- 20 Million Billion Leagues Past Detroit – “A long shadow appeared over the small window in which sat a bored, lizard-tongued man with an elongated snout.” I suppose this tells you that we won’t be on Earth. So, yeah, a good start.
- Stars Aligned – “Signorina Stella sat barefoot, her legs crossed in a high-back wooden chair, strumming her guitar and singing before her favorite audience.” Hmm, not even close. However, it brings you into one of the main characters’ lives and Mirrors Bohemian Stars’ intro.
- If a Robot Play the Blues Do It Still Be Funky? – “Riley had been working the rivet line for as long as he could remember.” The first paragraph gets you there, but this is truly just an opener. The first sentence of Chapter 2 is more informative, in terms of introducing the main character, but hopefully you already like him by then. “Rashon Rannell Riley, IV began life as R3-4 Unit, Serial Number 63AJR15 in Fao de Exter, an industrial village seated midway along the northernmost coast of the Devale Sea on Delphia, a small planet located in the Taucetus sector.“
All in all it’s a mixed bag. Some first lines draw you into the story. Others set the tone for the whole book. I think first paragraphs are more important, as often, one page is all you’ll get to convince a reader to launch into your book. Spend time on it. More time. And then more. It shouldn’t be the best part of the book, but it should be consistent with its quality and tone.