Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fantastic First Lines: Why?

Okay, so some of you shared your favorite first lines. Now I want to know one simple thing...


Why are those your favorite first lines? What about those line captured you? Drew you into the story?

Here's my analysis on the first lines I listed:

"It was Nathan's fault that I became God. It is, as I would learn, hell to be God." The God Game, Andrew Greeley (okay, that's two lines, but even just the first line is great.)

Line: "The city was silently bloating in the hot sun, rotting like the thousands of bodies that had fallen in street battles." A Voice in the Wind, Francine Rivers
Why I Like it: The drama and powerful word choices caught me. And stirred a question I wanted answered. What had happened? Thousands of bodies? Why?? I could tell as soon as I read this that someone monumental had happened, and would likely continue.

Line: "This is my favorite book in the world, though I have never read it." The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern
Why I Like it: Intrigue! The protag's favorite book, but he's never read it? How is that possible? And, too, this has a kind of playful tone to it that I loved.

Line: "A storm struck on the night Laura Shane was born, and there was a strangeness about the weather that people would remember for years." Lightning, Dean Koontz
Why I Like it: This line stirred my curiosity right off: Who is Laura Shane, and what's the significance of the storm? And why are people still remembering that night?

Line: "The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world." The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
Why I Like it: Hyperbole at it's best. This was a kind of challenge: the worst in the history of the world? Oh yeah? Let's see you prove that. And the author did. Admirably!

Okay, so what is it that captures you about first lines?



Rel said...

I love first lines that are intriguing, playful or set up some kind of conflict or question. They beckon me to read on either because they are fun, beautifully worded or hint at some tragedy or delight to come!

Margaret Daley said...

Great first lines. I want to be pulled immediately into the story--a question unanswered, an intriguing character, or like in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a statement that has to be proven to me.


Teri D. Smith said...

I loved the line by James Scott Bell because it was so unusual. A nun hit him in the mouth? Nuns aren't known for such violence. Like most great lines, it made me wonder: why?

As you read the first page, you learn that this is a basketball playing nun who's as sassy as she is agressive on the court.

Great first lines make us want more.

Susanne Lakin said...

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

These are the opening lines of Gabriel Garcia's Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (Nobel laureate). I read a great essay by Marquez on writing and how he spent months crafting the first paragrpah of his books. He believed that paragraph set up the entire book: voice, tone, plot, premise--everything. Once he knew he had the first paragraph perfected, he would write the book. His first line sets up so much and delivers. I try to do that with my books--develop a line that strings through the novel. Sometime I don't find that first line until the book is done. But a great first line will take your breath away--and so will a great last line. Thanks for this topic!

Sharon Ball said...

First lines that grab my attention and hogtie me to the book is what I love about cracking open a new novel. It's the promise that my curiosity will be tickled and I’ll enjoy a new adventure.

Nicole said...

I guess because I give an author a fair amount of leeway, I don't need a great first line, but the ensuing paragraph should intrigue, make me smile in expectancy, or just flat entice me to go on.

I agree with those who cited James Scott Bell's Try Darkness first line and ensuing first "chapter". Absolutely great. What a knockout novel.

Anonymous said...

The judge always had the final say. Right or wrong, he was God. His truth was a hard, unbending line that never wavered. Not even for me. When I was young I called him Daddy. - Where Mercy Flows by Karen Harter

This opening encapsulates the story conflict and immediately makes me wonder what happened to create the tension between the protag and her daddy. Karen could have said father, but her word choice DADDY after defining his truth as hard and unbending says volumes!

By the way, I highly recommend this Christy Award winning book. It is a beautiful, lyrical story that reflects Christ's sacrifice. Proves once again you can tell someone about grace....or you can show them via a well told story.

Where Mercy Flows was my friend Karen's heartsong. She wrote it after being diagnosed with Stage VI cancer with the knowledge she wouldn't be here on earth much longer. (Karen left to be with Jesus last September.) Read it and you won't be the same afterward.

Catherine said...

When I read the opening line to "Demon a Memoir" by Tosca Lee, I had to read it again. Very simple. "It was raining the night he found me." Powerful because already there is intrigue and setting. I'm already involved in the darkness and the sound of the rain. And why did he or she need to be found? And who found him or her? Just a few words can instantly strike a match to your imagination.

The opening paragraph of "The Kite Runner" was so powerful I had to keep reading. I had to know the answers. Where was this alley with the crumbling mud wall? How did the past claw its way out? It's got masterful images. Word choices are critical. Must leave the reader desperate to know more. Give me a reason to turn that page.

Teri D. Smith said...

I just realized that after I glance at the back cover of a book, I open it and read the first couple of lines. If they don't pull me into the story, I set the book aside.

A lot of my decision on whether to buy a book or check it out of the library depends on those first few lines. It's asking a lot of an author to pack that much punch into a sentence, but we can often tell a lot about the tone and style of a book by those first few lines.

Great post, Karen!

Karen B. said...

Terri, you're right on target! I didn't realize it, but I do the same thing. The cover and back cover copy capture me first, but if the writing on the first page doesn't deliver as well, I put it back.

Great insight.


Robin Caroll said...

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years-if it ever did end-began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain. From IT, Stephen King.

Immediately drew me in--terror that lasted 28 years? Wow, what could cause terror lasting so long?

This happened in 1932, when the state penitentiary was still at Cold Mountain. And the electric chair was there, too, of course. From THE GREEN MILE, Stephen King.

This grabbed me because just the mention of the electric chair let me know the tone of the book.

Amanda had been preparing for this moment for years, knowing it would come, wishing it wouldn't. From BORN IN SHAME, Nora Roberts

What moment? Why didn't she want it to come? Yep, made me ask questions.

I peered over a box of Special K at my husband and smiled because today I was going to run away with another man. From PERFECT, Harry Kraus

Don't even need to explain the questions that opening line poses.

Tosca said...

"We have been lost to each other for so long." The Red Tent

This line pulled at my heart. I had to read the second line, the rest of the paragraph, the first page. I was in love.

"'I see...' said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window." Interview With the Vampire

This line threw me. In a genre where vampire identity is a coyly lifted veil, this first line slapped me in the face. I slapped the book back--shut--and took it home to see what that was all about.

Tosca said...

I have to leave another from a new friend and outrageous talent, Nicole Baart:

"Abigail Bennett was the definition of unexpected. She was one year on the wrong side of the knife blade that was thirty, but if she turned up at your restaurant and ordered a glass of wine, even high-heeled and clad in a black sheath, you'd card her every time."

I was so taken by this line. (Don't we all feel one year on the wrong side of the knifeblade of something??)

Anonymous said...

“It was an overcast late November morning, the grass splintered by hoarfrost, and winter grinning through the gaps in the clouds like a bad clown peering through the curtains before the show begins.”

John Connolly, Unquiet

I don't know if that opening line is great or cheesy. I just know I like it. Much like art, I'm not sure I know what is good but I do know what I like. I think the opening line should grab the reader by the throat. I too often determine what I buy and read by the opening line. It seems like an author who takes the time to craft an opening line worthy of their book cares about the reader. But what do I know?