Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Sunday, October 31, 2010

First Lines

Michelle McLean, one of the fine ladies blogging for Operation Awesome, recently had a post about how first lines can captivate us:

I recently finished reading Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero. Aside from really enjoying the book, I was struck by how many awesome first lines he had. The first line of the book was amazing:

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.

My inner editor immediately stopped to admire that incredible bit of writing. As first lines go, that is made of total win (at least imo).

But it didn’t stop there. Several times throughout the book, I’d turn the page to start a new chapter and got blown away by that chapter’s first line. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Leo wished the dragon hadn’t landed on the toilets.
2. As soon as Jason saw the house, he knew he was a dead man.
3. Leo’s tour was going great until he learned about the dragon.
4. After a morning of storm spirits, goat men, and flying boyfriends, Piper should’ve been losing her mind.
5. Jason would have died five times on the way to the front door if not for Leo.
6. When Leo saw how well Piper and Hedge were being treated, he was thoroughly offended.
7. The plan went wrong almost immediately.
8. Leo hadn’t felt this jumpy since he’d offered tofu burgers to the werewolves.

In my work in progress, Assassin’s Club – Doing Good by Being Bad, the first sentence doesn’t exactly slap you in the face, but I’m pretty proud of the first 20 lines.

The man fights his way through the surf. A giant wave crashes over his back, knocking the air from his lungs.

He struggles to stand upright, his arms and legs heavy as lead. He doesn’t remember much. He vaguely recalls thrashing around in the cold water and turning around in time to see the stern of a sailing ship as it glided toward the horizon, jaunty carnival tunes in its wake.

Did I fall from that? Or get pushed?

The water tugs at his legs like a needy lover. Finally he finds himself on hot, dry sand and falls to his knees. He has a pounding headache and blood on his hand from when he touches the throbbing knot on the back of his scalp.

Where the hell am I? Who am I?

The voices in his head provide no answers.

A hazy figure appears far up the beach and so he walks in that direction. The sun feels good on his back. Overhead, seagulls circle and chatter in their private language. After a few minutes he can make out some details of the approaching figure – a tall woman in a flowing white gown with sunflower-gold hair. She walks with her head down as if overwhelmed by a great sadness. Or maybe just looking for pretty shells.

A terrible fear jolts his heart.

She’s in mortal danger. Something awful is about to befall her.

Close now, she looks up and laughs at him. “Jesus, you’re naked!”

So that’s who I am.

The first line of chapter two (which was originally chapter one, until I decided my serial killer needed a friend to play with) was more successful, I believe:

Tyler Goode didn’t know the man’s real name until he read the obituary three days later.

Writers can engage the reader without needing an exploding helicopter in the first paragraph, but the opening should at least raise the reader’s curiosity about the dramatic, humorous or informative material to follow.

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