First Lines

One of the hardest and most fun things a writer has to do is decide what the first line will be in the book they’re writing. Sometimes that line appears fast, out of “nowhere.” Sometimes a line pops up and dies right in front of the writer and needs to be buried immediately before it starts to stink up the page.

I think all of the below are good first lines. They drew me in, in a way appropriate to what turned out to be coming in the rest of the book. I enjoyed all these books, too.

It was terribly hot that summer Mr. Robertson left town, and for a long while the river seemed dead. (Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout)

Already by her twentieth birthday, my grandmother was an excellent midwife, in great demand. (Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons)

Even before he got up he knew he was on his way. (Postcards by Annie Proulx)

Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. (Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen)

Anyone in the neighborhood could tell you how Michael and Pauline first met. (The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler)

All he could see, in every direction, was water. (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand)

The first line in my family legacy/memoir, The Cleveland Rutters, came fairly quickly to me. I wrote it before I really had a clear idea how the stories would unfold, but it lived through all sorts of attacks and stood firm:

Except on the mantel, according to Dad, everything in Nana and Bubba’s home was chipped.

Take a look at some of your own favorite books and check the first lines in them. I’ll bet they foreshadow well. Feel free to share them here. I’d love to read them!

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2 Responses to First Lines

  1. Love this topic. I went to the book, well known to our dear blogger and myself, “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” by James D. Hornfischer, a book about World War II and “the values that define a warrior and a nation.” He wrote of a battle that Dad used to tell us about, the battle at Samar in the Philippines, where the destroyer Dad was assigned to found itself after the smoke cleared surrounded by what seemed to be the entire Japanese fleet. Mr. Hornfischer chose for his opening sentence, “A giant stalked through the darkness.”

    • @NR&M Thanks (belated) for that literary memory and for adding to this strand. I find I’m always noticing first lines and making spot judgments about the book.

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