The first line of a book is one of the most important. If I’m standing in a bookstore, trying to decide which books to buy, a bad first line can make me put a book I wanted to like back. I know as an author that the idea of trying to pick a first line for my WIP is terrifying, because I know how important it is.
Basically this will be me looking at first lines of books and saying what I like about them or what I hate about them.
I’m judging other authors, basically, on one sentence. 😉
Uglies by Scott Wersterfield
“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”
I literally never got past the first line of this book. Cat vomit is one of the grossest things ever–who starts their book with that visual? Ugh, I can’t.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
“I AM A COWARD.”
Woah. Aren’t you intrigued? This line perfectly sets the tone for the book, reveals the torment in the main character’s mind, drags you in and makes you give a damn.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
“I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison.”
Okay, I love this book. But it took me two tries to actually read it. This first line isn’t bad or anything, it’s just boring.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.”
Love this one. It sets the stage (a place where dogs talk = not earth) and the tone (the dialect of this book is one of the things that makes it amazing). Also, it’s sassy, and it makes you want to read more.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
This one sets up the fire motif (can you tell I read this in English class) and draws you into the story. It’s creepy and lets you know that this book and this protagonist are twisted.
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
“I felt her fear before I heard her scream.”
There is a lot of good here: it sets the scene (dark) and lets you know that there is a paranormal element. So why the low rating? Because it’s lame and obvious. There isn’t anything original about it.
The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hatterner
“Just call me Ethan. You’re reading this first, but I’m writing it last.”
Okay, so it’s two lines. But that second one is really interesting. Not the most unique thing, but it has voice, and it makes you sit up and pay attention.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
“Ash fell from the sky.”
It doesn’t seem like much, but it does set the stage in a pleasing way. However, it gets a high rating because the ash is SO IMPORTANT in the rest of the series. Looking back and seeing that it was there all along gives me happy reader butterflies. Yay.
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”
Love the book, not so big on this line. It feels like the author is trying too hard to catch my attention. Be subtle about it, people!
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
“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.”
I like the fact that this lets you know that there is a medieval setting (herbwitch’s). But I really love the introduction of a literally scarred main character and the fascinating part about the mom and the potion. Does the mom hate the daughter (if so, mommy issues!), or is there something larger at work? The fact that I’m already asking questions makes me keep reading to find out.
Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
“Had anyone told me that my entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, I would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please.”
It’s a good thing that this book had a good premise, because this first line is awful. Can you say stereotypical? Can you say, “duh”? It’s a book–something is going to happen at the beginning to start it. Saying that isn’t a good beginning. AHH!
Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi
“Lila Cardoza is dead and wearing my earrings.”
Is it a murder mystery and our protagonist is the suspect? Is it a misunderstanding? Is our protagonist an assassin who specializes in poison jewelry? All the questions! Must read on.
The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester
“Piper decided to jump off the roof.”
In a YA book, this would be very dark. But since this is a middle grade book, the line (instead of setting up a suicidal main character) is quirky and cute. A little in your face about READ ME, but whatever.
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
“The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.”
This line makes you think: how much does your life suck? Which is an accurate introduction, because this guys life is awful. I like this line, personally. It makes me smile.
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
“For the record, I wasn’t around the day they decided to become Dumb. If I’d been their manager back then I’d have pointed out that the name, while accurate, was not exactly smart.”
This is funny. And smart. I love the wordplay with Dumb/smart. (Dumb is the name of the band.) I love that right away you know that this main character is sassy.
What do you think? What are your favorite first lines? Would you (or have you) read these books?
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