Your first line is probably the most important in your work. It should surprise and intrigue your reader and somehow give a taste of what is to come. Ideally, it should be unusual or uncanny and most importantly, it should encourage your reader to read on…
‘”Damn,” said the Duchess.” is a first line attributed to Agatha Christie. “Damn” was a pretty raw word in 1920 or so, rarely uttered in front of ladies, not to mind say by one, and then one of high social standing. So, an opening line such as this was written to shock, to intrigue, to grab the readers’ attention and it is a good idea to find one with a similar punch in the modern age.
Thereafter, follow your first line with a pacy set of three chapters. These are also the showpiece you’ll be sending off to agents and publishers, so make sure they’re written to hook.
Some writers write their last chapter first, so they can figure out their plot, and then leave writing those all-important first few pages until last. In fact, the very last piece of writing they might do is the first line. Therefore, don’t fret over your opening, get the rest of your work down and come back to it later if necessary.
And, take note that just as your first line should reach out and grab your reader – your final line should linger with your reader for sometime afterwards…
Can you guess which works gave us the following opening lines? Answers below
1) ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’
2) ‘I’m writing this sitting in the kitchen sink.’
3) ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’
4) ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
5) ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’
6) ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’
7) ‘Mother died today.’
8 ) ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’
9) ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’
10) ‘He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.’
1) Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.
2) I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
3) A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
4) 1984, George Orwell
5) Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
6) Ulysses, James Joyce
7) The Stranger, Albert Camus
8 ) The Crow Road, Iain Banks
9) The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley
10) Orlando, Virginia Woolf
July 3rd, 2012 at 19:10
A fun read on a stifling hot day in Philadelphia. I think the second line of The Stranger makes the first line all the better: “Or maybe it was yesterday.” Check out this article from The New Yorker on the controversy of that first line’s English translation. (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/05/camus-translation.html).
Maybe no more than angels on a hatpin but an interesting discussion nevertheless.
July 3rd, 2012 at 19:12
P.S. Loved the name of the yard in Norwich. There something both Dantesque and Dickensian about it.
July 3rd, 2012 at 21:05
Ugh, you just made me feel uneasy about my book’s beginning! Ah well I’ll get over it. Funny, I like the start of Catcher in the Rye best, as it sounds as if it were spoken by someone I would like to have a pint with.
Also – The Unthanks – great band! Should check them out on YouTube. 🙂
July 3rd, 2012 at 21:37
That unforgettable first line of 1984.
July 4th, 2012 at 02:02
“There were three things he realized when he jumped off the cliff and started falling….” so what do you think of this opening line I am going to use in my story.
July 8th, 2012 at 13:28
I was impressed that I knew a few of those. Very helpful as usual.