Wednesday, April 21, 2010

First Lines

The other day, we talked about great beginnings, one of those being a hooky first line. But what classifies one sentence as hookier than another. Part of that is totally subjective. However, most will agree that great writing is simply that.

Here are some fabulous examples and why I chose them.


1. “The Face of Deception” by Iris Johansen

“It was going to happen.” I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen. My mind comes up with all kinds of possibilities and I have to read more to see if I guessed right.

2. “Sense of Evil” by Kay Hooper

“The voices wouldn’t leave him alone.” Again, my mind is filled with unanswered questions. Is the person sick or does he/she have some sort of special ability. Knowing the author, I already know the answer, but still… (It’s an ability.) Why won’t the voices leave this character alone?

3. “Warning Signs” by Stephen White

“Hands nipple high, palms up toward the night sky, Bruce Collamore started talking before the cops were even out of their car.” Why do I have the feeling this guy’s about to start trouble?

These examples show how one sentence can jump-start the suspense element of the story, but it’s important to continue along those lines. If you answer the reader’s question in the next sentence or paragraph, he/she no longer has a need to continue reading. Keep the reader guessing long enough for them to become attached to the characters and the storyline, then you can start to give things away. Slowly.


1. “High Country Bride” by Linda Lael Miller

“Angus McKettrick hated every thorn and cactus, every sprig of sagebush, every juniper tree and jackrabbit and hunk of red rock for fifty miles in all directions, and if he could have scorched the land bare as a pig’s hide at rendering time, he’d have done it, yes, sir.” Even though this is a long first sentence, it moved me because of the author’s voice. I’m already interested in what this character has to say and why he’s saying it.

2. “Drop Dead Gorgeous” by Linda Howard

“My name is Blair Mallory, and I’m trying to get married, but the Fates are NOT cooperating…” Here, I’m curious as to why this character thinks the Fates are against her, but that’s not the only thing that caught my eye. I simply love the voice.


This is a little different than suspense because there isn’t necessarily anything immediate happening, but some sort of question has been raised in my mind.

1. “The Husband” by Dean Koontz

“A man begins dying at the moment of his birth.” Is this a strong statement or what? I have to know what the character means by this comment.

2. “Roses Are Red” by James Patterson

“Brianne Parker didn’t look like a bank robber or a murderer—her pleasantly plump baby face fooled everyone.” So, now I know she probably robbed a bank and killed someone, but I don’t know why or how. Although she seems to have gotten away with it so far, will that continue, or will they catch her?

These are only a few sample first lines of books on my shelves. The best way to learn how to write a killer first sentence is to go through books like this and analyze why their first line grabbed your attention or why it failed to do so. Do you have any favorites you’d like to share?


  1. Great post. I am so a first line reader in the bookstore, so I obsess over my own opening lines. I read in Hooked, I think, that some of the best first lines hint at the end of the book. I thought that was daunting (but terrific) advice.

  2. My absolute, all-time favorite first line comes from Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess:

    "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

    How's that for voice, curiosity, and (like Roni says above) hinting at the end of the book?

  3. Each of these in fantastic! And though I usually pay attention to the books I read to some degree, you make me want to start whipping titles off my shelf for a quick go round. :)

  4. I loved those! Voice is my favorite way to go-a good voice can do wonders.

  5. I enjoyed reading first lines, especially in the bookstore.

    I went to a conference recently and the agent went through dozens of interesting first lines or paragraphs to give us an idea what interests her or the kind of thing that draws attention.