I read a blog recently (SARAH BRENTYN, Lemon Shark, HERE ) about first lines – opening lines of a book or sometimes a chapter.
Sarah’s post leans toward celebrating YA genre, which is fine, and touches on wondering why people don’t like it. I was one of those people. (I thought YA was written for young teens, and I didn’t want to read that. It’s not, and sometimes I do. Plus I kinda got forced into it, but that’s a story for a different time.)
To me, it’s important to hook a reader at the very start of your story, in the opening paragraph and with the very first words if possible. Not necessarily in your first draft, but definitely in your final draft.
(Read more about that HERE)
I also think it’s a good idea to end chapters with a cliffhanger ending, just so you know. Again, it’s not always possible or even desirable, but do these things when you can. Twenty chapters in, you can ease up; readers are likely to stay with you. But maybe not.
So when I caught this post, it intrigued me, and I want you to follow it to the end. My reason for doing this is different from the original author of the blog. I don’t think these opening lines are all that great, most of them. See what you think. (This selection is YA.)
Onward! First lines…
“I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb.”
His Fair Assassin Book 1: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
“Everyone thinks it was because of the snow. And in a way, I suppose that’s true.”
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
“It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.”
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
“In all the years I’d existed, I’d never expected to be free.”
The Goddess Legacy by Aimee Carter
“Petunia was knitting some fingerless gloves to match her new red velvet cloak when the Wolves of Westfalian Woods attacked.”
Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George
“Every morning, the sun comes up and turns the earth red, and I think: This could be the day when everything changes. Maybe today the Society will fall.”
Matched Trilogy Book 3: Reached by Ally Condie
“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.”
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
“There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.”
Divergent by Veronica Roth
“They hung the Unregistereds in the old warehouse district; it was a public execution, so everyone went to see.”
Blood of Eden Book 1: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.”
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
“Spring in the mountains of Morravik was a about as predictable as a tired two-years child in a house of wonders…”
The Raven Ring by Patricia C. Wrede
“Just so you know, when they say ‘Once upon a time’…they’re lying.”
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer
(I cheated on this one. Technically, this isn’t the first line of the novel but it’s the first line of the “Oliver” chapter—the main character of this book within a book)
“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win.”
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
“He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.”
“She spoke to him before the world fell apart.”
“It was the smell that began to drive Thomas slightly mad.”
Maze Runner Series by James Dashner
Again, these are YA, and I have a friend who loves writing YA, and I’m writing a YA, so it’s not meant to disparage the genre, but honestly, any of you could write opening lines better than half of these, and as good as any of these.
And that’s the point. These books did well. Give yourself every advantage, but write the best opening line you can.
Now, here’s what I want you to do.
In the comments, post the opening line, with attribution, of (A) the book you are currently reading or have most recently read and (B) one of more of your favorite books. I don’t care if it’s Hop On Pop or Winnie The Pooh or Treasure Island or The Martian – which, honestly, the opening lines read like a blog post of mine when I was drunk and it’s a bestseller and a big movie with Matt Damon.
That’s not the point. The point is, we sometime feel we’re in a competition and we probably aren’t, but why not pull back the curtain and reveal what words opened for so many books we liked?
So? What are the opening lines of your favorite books?
Let’s do this, too. In a separate post, CLICK HERE, I’ll list some opening lines and you read and rate them. Don’t try to say oh, that’s a famous classic book, of course I should like it, instead, just SAY whether you liked it and maybe what grabbed you about it, and then I’ll show where it came from. Could be fun. And I’ll play along. Go ahead, click over.
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure” – yeah, we know. We tried to convince him to change that title. He’s sticking with it. Check out his other works HERE and check back often for interesting stuff.