The Vital First Line

Back when I was working on writing the finale to book 3, The Immortal Rider, I started thinking about how it all began. So I went back and read the first chapter of book one again, just to revisit where Aimee started and how far she’s come.

Then that got me thinking about the start of books.

When you’re browsing for books do you open them and read the first line? And does that help you decide to buy or not?

I think when we open a book it’s because we’re ready to go on an adventure, and that first line should grab us and pull us straight into the story.

With this in mind, I spent a while going through the books on my shelves looking for some amazing first lines. It was good fun—something I’d recommend you give a try on a rainy Sunday afternoon. So, here’s a list of my favourites and why they jumped out at me.

 

“OK. Stop. Stop right there.” 

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris

I like this one because it sets the tone for the whole book. Instantly you know that this is something different. This isn’t going to be a normal Norse saga retelling. Our narrator here is sarcastic and the phrasing is modern.

 

“Forest litter crunched under Evnis’ feet, his breath misting as he whispered a curse.”

Malice by John Gwynne

I think this one is a good, atmospheric first line. Instantly I’m picturing deep, dark woods in winter with someone sneaking through them. Where’s he going? The fact that he whispered his curse suggests he’s doing something illicit, or he’s somewhere he shouldn’t be.

 

“Nothing stinks quite like a corpse.”

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

This is from book 2 in the Nevernight trilogy and I love it because it lets the reader know, right from the off, that we’re in for more bloody fun and games. Book 1 was gory and brilliantly good fun, and I like that here it’s as if Kristoff is saying, ‘don’t worry, this book is going to bring you more of the same’.

 

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, book 1) by Stephen King

I think this is a classic in the ‘best first lines’ game. The first part, about the man in black, raises so many questions—Who is he? Why’s he fleeing? Why into the desert? And then the second half of the sentence introduces ‘the gunslinger’ and instantly you’re hooked. And have a bunch more questions! You can’t not read on.

 

“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.”

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I like this because it feels like a little nod from the writer to the reader. Karou has ‘no sinister premonitions’ but by stating that Taylor is making clear that something dramatic and life-changing is going to happen today. Taylor knows it, and the reader knows it, it’s only Karou who doesn’t.

 

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

I like the way this sentence contrasts. The first half is very reasonable—he knows it’s Wednesday but it’s obviously very quiet and sounds like Sunday. It’s a logical thought. But the ‘something seriously wrong somewhere’ is quite eerie and disturbing. Clearly our protagonist has no idea what’s gone wrong, but it’s something big.

 

“Why is it forbidden to write down specific knowledge of the magics?”

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

This first line has the words ‘forbidden’ and ‘magic’ in it. What more do you need to tell you that you’re about to set off on an exciting fantasy adventure?

 

“There was a harsh gale blowing on the night Yarvi learned he was a king.”

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

This is a simple sentence but I think it conveys a lot and conjures quite a definite image. It makes me think of a dark, inhospitable night, possibly involving a forbidding castle. And of course, nothing good ever happens on nights like that. The name Yarvi tells you that this is fantasy, not history, and the fact that he’s just learned he’s become king suggests that the previous king has recently died. This sentence is dropping us straight into the story.

 

“Freak.”

The Sky Riders by Kerry Law

Yes, this one is from my book. Of course I love my own first line. I really like that it’s dialogue. Books don’t often start with dialogue but I think it’s great fun to have voices leap off the page at you, right from the beginning. But also, that one word raises questions—who’s a freak? Why are they a freak? How are they going to respond to being called a freak? Hopefully you can’t help but read on to find out.

 

What do you think? Have I missed a book that you think has an amazing opening line?

 

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