Monday, November 18, 2013

Hook Me!

First lines are so important!

There are so many great examples of great first lines - one of my favourites is It was a pleasure to burn from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Love its simplicity and how much it tells of the story without being complex or bogging me down.

Styles change and currently it seems popular first lines are fairly short. The main character is often involved. There's usually something intriguing or unique to pull you in. Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book begins There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. No main character but it is pure Awesome! My MG & YA readers gobble it up!

One of my favourite all time books is Anne of Green Gables. It was written in 1908 and the styles were definitely different. The first line is over 100 words long, doesn't mention the main character (I don't think Anne shows up until Chapter 2) and includes 3 semi-colons. Most agents and readers today would pass it right by!

I'm getting better at writing those first lines. Like many other writers, I revise that first line and scene many times before I'm satisfied. And then I do it some more.

How about you, do you have any favourite first lines? Do you find them easy to write?

I'm over at From the Write Angle today talking about first lines in a query - how do you hook that agent??? I hope you'll pop over and join the discussion!

43 comments:

  1. The first line is always the most difficult and I tend to rewrite it many times. My last two were really short - both under six words.

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  2. First lines are tricky. The whole darn first page is tricky, actually!

    That's pretty funny about the first line of Anne of Green Gables. Can you imagine the reaction that would get today? There are a lot of classic books that would never get published today.

    What does that say about writing,literature, and taste?

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  3. Love the Neil Gaiman first line. They are hard to write. The first line and the whole first chapter are ones that get the most rewrites for me.

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  4. I love the first lines of classic texts - "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.."! Lovely!

    Take care
    x

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  5. Alex - I think shorter can pack a huge punch!

    Dianne - it's amazing how much tastes have changed! It would be boring if it was static though!

    Natalie - Gaiman is brilliant! I do a lot of rewriting there too :)

    Old Kitty - agreed - such beauty in the language!

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  6. The Graveyard Book is on my list of favorite first lines! I wrote a post about my faves here: 10 Favorite First Lines

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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  7. It was a pleasure to burn...great opening line!

    I liked "Call me Ishmael," which just seems to set the stage for an offbeat adventure (although I was never a fan of Moby Dick).

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  8. Jemi,
    Nothing about writing is easy. I agonize as much over my last line as my first. Cormac McCarthy has some great first lines and Anna Karenina has a wonderful first line. As far as length....we can't worry about that!

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  9. I'm with Old Kitty, my fave first line is the same as hers. And I agree, it is one of the hardest things about novel-writing.

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  10. I feel like I've always paid attention to that first line but there's always room for improvement.

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  11. Ugh, I hate perfecting first lines! In the past I've left a long blank in front of my second sentence and just came back to that dreaded first line later, lol. And I agree with the shorter lines packing a huge punch. Those are my fave.

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  12. Laura - it's a great one! I'll check out your post! :)

    Elizabeth - I was never a huge fan either, but I do love that line!

    Yvonne - so true! But I'd really try to stay under a hundred words :)

    Karen - yes! That is such a good one - sets the tone for the whole story!

    Susan - there always is for me! I've never felt completely satisfied with any of mine :)

    Clarissa - it is tough! I just write down whatever comes to mind, figuring I'll agonize over it later :)

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  13. I know you're gong to think me a bit silly, but one of my favourite lines is ... Once upon a time. Truly! It's so evocative of my childhood :)

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  14. Hey Jemi,

    If you can't entice them with the first sentence, the reader might just give up that quickly.

    Of course, Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar captures the reader with her first sentence. Not literally captures them :)

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  15. Gary - so true! We want those readers hanging in longer than that! Penny doesn't need violence to ensnare anyone! :)

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  16. I tend to write and rewrite first lines. I love them so much in books because there are such a variety of ways to capture the readers attention. Love the ones you pointed out. :) Neil is a genius in my book!
    ~Jess

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  17. Jess - totally agree - the man is brilliant!! :)

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  18. I jump into the first line, but usually end up rewriting it.

    I'll check out your post.

    Thank you for offering to post/host for me for my next book awhile back. I'll keep you in mind. :)

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  19. Medeia - you're very welcome! I end up rewriting too :)

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  20. I love a good first line! Like Medeia, I usually end up rewriting mine, because I want it to be the perfect fit for the story. :)

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  21. Cant remember an example, which means that I probably haven't read many good ones :( but I do love a good opening sentence. I like the ones which immediately describe an atmosphere or a setting making you feel like you are already there in the first sentence.

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  22. I've probably rewritten my first line than all the other lines in the story put together.

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  23. I can remember reading Anne Of Green Gables... great series...
    The Catcher In The Rye has a good opening sentence.
    Writer In Transit

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  24. Shelley - me too! I don't know if I've quite found the magic yet! :)

    Dez - yes! Those ones that draw you right into the story are priceless!

    Linda - so true! I know many writers who do that :)

    Michelle - I LOVE Anne - I've read it a few times now :)

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  25. First lines are the hooks for readers. And yes, first lines in query letters should be well thought out.

    Nas

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  26. I don't have one favourite first line, but I study them often to see what works or what doesn't.

    And what a great observation about Anne of Green Gables! I've read that book more than a few times, but never paid attention to the first line! You're right - she'd never get away with it today, but when a book is a classic I'm willing to give it a 'pass' on the first line.

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  27. Beth - me too! I've read the story many times and still love it! :)

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  28. Such a good question. I've never thought of my first lines very much. I should though! I tend to think of the whole paragraph or first page, but that first line can really work, can't it? Thanks!

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  29. Jean - you're very welcome! I don't know if I'll ever be super happy with my first lines but I like trying! :)

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  30. First lines are so important. Not too much, not too little. They need to be just right. And that's so hard.

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  31. I also adore Anne of Green Gables.

    My favorite first line is "Where's Papa going with that ax?" (First line of Charlotte's Web.)

    The first line of my wip is only one word- Rules. (followed by Sheridan Ward lived her life by three.) Hmmm. Maybe I should rethink that. lol!

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  32. Ava - that one from Charlotte's Web is an awesome one!! I'd forgotten about that one :)

    Actually I like the one word! Intriguing enough to make me want to know more! And the 2nd line works well to pull me in too. Well done :)

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  33. Love the one from FEED by M.T. Anderson - "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

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  34. Hi Jemi,

    At the risk of sounding like a cliche, my favourite is 'it was the best of times and the worst of times' in A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens. No, it doesn't mention the main characters.

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  35. Leslie - I love that one too! He's got such a great sense of humour!!! :)

    Maria - you're right - it is a great line! Funny how times have changed :)

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  36. I can't even count how many times I write the opening lines. I even do it after the book's published! Of course, nobody ever sees that brilliant final draft. :-)

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  37. Lee - too funny! I wonder if I'll finally get one right after it's out there! :)

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  38. I do enjoy the short and sweet first lines that grab you by the throat and don't let go.

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  39. Lynda - me too! Those are really hard to write but well worth aiming for :)

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  40. Love that first line!
    I sometimes will put place holders in my ms so I don't get stuck, and come back later once I have the feel of things. such as (brilliant first line here)

    I know it's frowned upon, but I tend to like using dialogue. Don't know why.

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  41. Terry - I've never minded dialogue either - sometimes it just works!

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