What’s in a first line?
While it is a difficult task to plot a novel, write a novel, and edit a novel, it cannot be understated that the first line is its own extra special problem (one that will most likely require a few rounds of edits all its lonesome).
It’s the first thing the reader will see when embarking on the adventure you’ve woven. It sets the mood. It sets the tone. It hooks the reader and tells them “this is going to be worth your time.”
If you haven’t given your first line much thought, or if you think the first line isn’t that important, let me give you some examples to change your mind. Once you see how intriguing a single sentence can be, I bet you’ll never look at your first sentence the same ever again.
Some first sentences intrigue:
1. It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
2. There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
The glorious thing about both these sentences is that the twist at the end leaves you curious. The first line is from 1984, by George Orwell. The second is from The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Both are world famous and powerful writers—and it’s easy to tell, just from the first line.
Some first sentences set the tone:
1. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
2. Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache.
Notice that both these lines have personality to them. You can feel the whimsy and you might already be on the verge of laughter, smiling to yourself as you wonder what will happen next. The first example is from Harry Potter, by JK Rowling, and the second comes from Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo. Both get across the tone, even before the reader knows what’s happening. Truly they’re masters of their craft.
Some first sentences play with your emotions:
1. Mother died today.
2. I’ve been locked up for 264 days.
Both these lines should resonate with the reader, no matter where they’re from. We all have mothers. We all fear imprisonment. The fact that the main character has suffered something that would torture any human soul already gets the reader invested in their plight. The first example is from The Stranger, by Albert Camus, and the second example is from Shatter Me, by Taherah Mafi.
In a fraction of a second, the first line imparts to the reader a whole host of information. It sets the stage for your masterwork to unfold, and should never be taken lightly.
A starting line about the weather, or about waking up, just aren’t powerful in a market filled with best sellers and extreme talent.
My own first line, from my debut novel, Vice City, took me some time to settle on. At first I had something less than ideal (about the temperature, if I remember correctly) but I finally found a line that I think captures the tone nicely. I wrote:
Getting hit with a wrench hurts.
Yup. It only took me a few rewrites, but I knew that it captured the main character’s jaded (and slight ‘I don’t give a fuck’) nature. The perfect way to start a tale of redemption and mob violence.
And now I hope I’ve imparted the importance of an intriguing opening line. Something that gets the reader ready for an adventure that only a well-written novel can achieve. It’ll be the first stepping stone into the adventure, and you don’t want the reader stumbling, trust me on this one.
AUTHOR BIO: S.A. Stovall grew up in California’s central valley with a single mother and little brother. Despite no one in her family having a degree higher than a GED, she put herself through college (earning a BA in History), and then continued on to law school where she obtained her Juris Doctorate.
As a child, Stovall’s favorite novel was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The adventure on a deserted island opened her mind to ideas and realities she had never given thought before—and it was the moment Stovall realized that story telling (specifically fiction) became her passion. Anything that told a story, be it a movie, book, video game or comic, she had to experience. Now, as a professor and author, Stovall wants to add her voice to the myriad of stories in the world, and she hopes you enjoy.
You can contact her at the following addresses:
You can find Stovall’s debut novel, Vice City, at any of the following locations:
DSP Publications: https://tinyurl.com/ycumb5d2
Barnes & Noble: https://tinyurl.com/y7tuowhk
Google Play: https://tinyurl.com/yajyrwt9
VICE CITY BLURB
After twenty years as an enforcer for the Vice family mob, Nicholas Pierce shouldn’t bat an eye at seeing a guy get worked over and tossed in the river. But there’s something about the suspected police mole, Miles, that has Pierce second-guessing himself. The kid is just trying to look out for his brother any way he knows how, and the altruistic motive sparks an uncharacteristic act of mercy that involves Pierce taking Miles under his wing.
Miles wants to repay Pierce for saving his life. Pierce shouldn’t see him as anything but a convenient hookup… and he sure as hell shouldn’t get involved in Miles’s doomed quest to get his brother out of a rival street gang. He shouldn’t do a lot of things, but life on the streets isn’t about following the rules. Besides, he’s sick of being abused by the Vice family, especially Mr. Vice and his power-hungry goon of a son, who treats his underlings like playthings.
So Pierce does the absolute last thing he should do if he wants to keep breathing—he leaves the Vice family in the middle of a turf war.