As a writer I’m constantly looking for that great first line. The one that will hook the reader the minute they read it. As a reader I constantly admire – okay, sometimes on an almost pathological level – the first lines of other writers. Man, why didn’t I think of that line? I’m reading Hooked by Les Edgerton so this is on my brain a lot. All the best first lines I’ve read. Some from the great classics:
Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” Simple, direct. I love it. So did a slew of writers who went on to emulate it making it cliché to try today.
Gone with the Wind: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it.” Another incredible line which characterizes Scarlet in ways another writer would have taken pages to accomplish. Amazing use of brevity and wit.
A Farewell to Arms: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”From Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, this line sets the stage for us.
Huckleberry Finn: “YOU don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” Mark Twain’s reference to his signature story is a move of bravado that most wouldn’t get away with. It worked for him and the dialect sold us on the youngster named Huck whose plight is not so far removed from many of his time. The need for family and belonging yet the desire to remain free of a society that would cookie cutter them.
See Jane Run: “One afternoon in late spring, Jane Whittaker went to the store for some milk and some eggs and forgot who she was.” I’m a long time fan of Joy Fielding’s thrillers, but this is one of the first I read and definitely one of my favorites. She hooked me with this line and Jane’s blood-spattered clothing. Blood she didn’t know who it belonged to. Again a great set up, character, setting, background, and conflict. So much in one sentence.
Gone for Good: Harlan Coben’s thrillers are a favorite of mine. He seems to find the perfect first line every time. This is one of my favorites: “Three days before her death, my mother told me – these weren’t her last words, but they were pretty close – that my brother was still alive.” How can you not want to read on from that first sentence? His prominence on the best seller lists says I’m not the only one who feels this way about his books.
Now if finding and appreciating first lines would help me come up with some great ones of my own…hmm, not really feeling inspired. Better start chapter two and see what Les has to say about it.