Why Are First Lines Important?
I hope everyone is well. So it’s been forever since I’ve blogged. In fact, I checked and I hadn’t posted in 2015 at all. Yes. I am a bad blogger. So I put the call out to twitter on what they’d want to see and I got a tweet from a lovely tweep who suggested I post about the importance of a first line (Thanks, @2000_words. Go follow her!)
Well, to talk about why first lines are important we should probably see some huh? There are some classics that just evoke that special something when read. Like these first lines…
“Call me Ishmael.” — Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, (1851) (Okay, but who are you?)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, (1813) (Oh, she’s about to tell me why that matters. I need to know.)
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984 by George Orwell, (1949) (Wait, the clocks strike thirteen? How is that possible? I need to know more about that.)
What do these have in common? Besides the fact that they’ve stood the test of time? They make you wonder what happens next, right? That’s what a good first line should do. Set the tone with your character’s voice.
Oh, is that all? So how do you do that?
Well, I can only offer my opinion on it, but I think basically just talk to the reader. What do you want them to know about your character? Notice I said character and not story. I truly believe that in order for a first line to have an impact it has to be personal in some way. We have to care about the character and what is about to affect them to move on to the next line.
Since I’m a YA writer, I chose a few YA first lines that do just that.
“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.” –The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (This series, you guys. So good. If you could stop after reading this first line you are a stronger human than I.)
“Here’s everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.” – Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (I love this book so much. If you ever want to know about what voice is, read this book, really any of hers.)
“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.” The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (John Green just knows how to do it. His voice is unique and keeps us turning the pages)
“My father took one hundred and thirty two minutes to die. I counted.” Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (This book is a favorite of mine for so many reasons. This line is just the beginning of the emotional torture of this story.)
One example that I love that is all about the story is this one. We may not know who’s talking to us but just the idea of what is happening is enough to move us forward.
“It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since scientists perfected a cure.” Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Why does this resonate? Because it hits a cord. Love is universal and the idea of it being a disease? Yeah, I’d want to know more…)
Honestly, I think there’s a lot of pressure on the first line. It is important but if you make the reader interested in reading the line after that, then you’ve done your job. Another thing all these books have in common is they are excellent from the first line to the last. First lines matter the most when they are followed by better lines. Now, why are you reading this post? Get back in that seat and write the next great novel ;o)
What are some of your favorite first lines?
Have a great Sunday!