Monday, October 4

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, October 04, 2010 11 comments
Writing a great first line is a bear, isn't it? I can't tell you how many times I've added and taken away entire chapters from the front end of my book. This past week I spent days doing one final pass on my opening, adding setup before the inciting incident, and, of course, sweating over my first line. One of the first things I did was pull books off my shelves and look at first lines.

Here's my very favorite, because has everything you'd want--action, voice, unanswered questions and hook:

"The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse."
--Charles Williams, War in Heaven (1930)

FYI: Williams was a member of The Inklings (the writing group that also included Tolkien and Lewis) who wrote these very trippy and intense supernatural thrillers back in the 1930s. Lewis's That Hideous Strength is heavily influenced by Williams's style.

What's your favorite first line? What do you admire about it?


  1. Ha! I love that first line. It's SO good. The book's pretty decent too, though it gets a bit obscure and esoteric at the climax.

    Some of my favorite first lines are the ones I always point to as great examples: The Old Man and the Sea, and 100 Years of Solitude.

  2. What a great first line! Love it!

    I can't remember any stellar first lines I've read, but I agree: writing first lines is a killer!

  3. Oh wow, that a great first line. Both intriguing and very well-written.

    I can't actually remember many first lines, but the P&P one has always stuck with me. I'm not quite sure it'd work in current publishing environment, though.

  4. "The wind howled and the flames roared, but the books, as they died, merely fell silent."
    LIBYRINTH by Pearl North

    I'd love to write an opening as powerful as that.

  5. You're right beginnings are a bear! After editing so much of my book, I'm ready to junk the entire first chapter...I'm still thinking how I can infuse the nuggets I need later in the book. Maybe even a dreaded prologue.

  6. Wow, love that line too. It makes me want to read the entire book. I have a hard time writing that beginning sentence as well. Good luck!

  7. I'm a little bit the opposite. I love writing first lines, it's just the rest of the novel that I don't like. :-)

  8. Simon: How awesome that you like Williams! I like All Hallows' Eve best of his stuff I've read so far, but how can you not admire this kick-a$$ opener?

    Talli: there's no real formula--it has to hint at what's unique in the particular manuscript. I think that's what's so hard. I write in present tense, so I can't use so many typical hooks.

    Holly: Williams is a great writer worth checking out.

    Elle: Indeed! but I still hope to solve my opening problems enough to participate in your blogfest. :)

  9. Sandy: Ooh, yes, the "It is universally acknowledged...must be in want of a wife" opening. Several of my writing books hold that up as an example, but I agree that type of opening only works for certain genres.

    Tricia: nice! very atmospheric.

    Tamika: I did junk my first chapter when I started this rewrite. Now I'm trying be sure I've properly set up for the inciting incident in just a few paragraphs (rather than 15 pages!).

    Bethany: Williams's books are great page turners for being "classics." I recommend them!

    Lois: there's the rub, huh? The one-liner that seems provocative doesn't necessarily translate into a story idea one wants to explore.