A RECKLESS STUDY OF FIRST LINES

I see a lot of writers stressing about their first lines on social media, so I decided to do a bit of research into first lines.  I collected as many as I could, mostly in the YA genre, and I studied them, dividing them out into categories that made sense to me (though I’ll admit many could fit in several categories, so when in doubt, I went with my gut reaction).
  
 
Here are the 7 very non-scientific conclusions I’ve drawn, based on all the reflection:

  1. There’s not just one way to write a good first line.
  2. Sometimes the 2nd line is the kicker, not the first line.
  3. There’s probably not even just one perfect first line for your novel. In fact, depending on the tone or tactic you want to use to grab people’s attention, you could potentially come up with several different first lines that would be effective.
  4. The most important thing is that it grabs my attention and makes me want to keep reading. (Though I’ll admit I’ve never quit reading a novel after just 1 line, even if I hated the first line. . .) 
  5. So if I’m going to read past the first line regardless of what the first line is, then I figure the first line should be doing something for me. It could set the tone, show me the world, present voice, scare me, make me laugh, make me worry, start a mystery, etc).  It’s an opportunity to start hooking me, so you can reel me in.
  6. Despite all the variety and options available to me, I still feel there’s a perfect first line for each of my novels.
  7.  I think finding the right first line might be equivalent to finding the perfect pair of jeans. Of course, once I typed that, I realized I’m 34 and still looking for my perfect jeans, so when I put that into perspective, settling on a perfect first line doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. 
I’ve decided to share the first lines I wrote down and the categories I ended up sorting them into, in case it helps you learn something new about what a first line means to you or what type of first line you want to employ with your current WIP.  As always, best wishes and happy brainstorming!
OMINOUS FIRST LINES:
“Life was good before I met the monster.” (CRANK by Ellen Hopkins)
 
“They called the world beyond the walls of the pod “the Death Shop.” (UNDER THE NEVER SKYE by Veronica Rossi)
 
“They took me in my nightgown.” (Between Shades of Gray by Rutya Septys)
 
“I felt her fear before I heard her screams.” (VAMPIRE ACADEMY by Richelle Mead)
 
“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” (THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman)
 
“Here is the boy, drowning.” (MORE THAN THIS by Patrick Ness)
“I’d never given much thought to how I would die — though I’d had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.” (TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer)
 
 
THE WTF FIRST LINES:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (1984  by George Orwell)
 
It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.” (IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY by Ned Vizzini)
 
“The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.” (MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers)
 
“I am dead, but it’s not so bad.” WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion
 
“It was a pleasure to burn.” (FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury)
 
THROWN INTO ACTION FIRST LINES:
“In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.” (GRACELING by Kristin Cashore)
“The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts. (CLOCKWORK ANGEL by  Cassandra Clare)
“I’ve been shot. And, as it turns out, a bullet wound is even more uncomfortable than I had imagined.” (DESTROY ME by Tahereh Mafi)

“I hid in the shadows, scanning the dark parking lot to assess the threat level.” (KILLING RUBY ROSE by Jessie Humphries) 
 
THE 2ND LINE MAKES THE INTRO:
“I wake up. Immediately I have to figure out who I am.(EVERY DAY by David Levithan)
 
“Not every thirteen-year-old girl was accused of murder, put on trial, and proven guilty. But I was just such a girl.”(THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE by Avi)
 
“I said a silent prayer. Actually, silent is probably the only type of prayer a guy should attempt when his head’s in a toilet.” (WINGER by Andrew Smith)
 
“It’s the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.” (SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson)
 
“One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone.” (GONE by Michael Grant)
 
“The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.” (GOING OVINE by Libba Bray)
 
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor)
 
INTRODUCTORY (WORLD /PREMISE/TONE) FIRST LINES:
“Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.” (WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart)
 
New town, new casino – same old plan.” (INSIGNIA by S.J. Kincaid)
 
“It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.” (DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver)
 
“The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car.” (THE LAST OLYMPIAN by Rick Riordan)
 
“Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken.” (THE SHIFTER by Janice Hardy)
 
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” (THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. Tolkien)
“Here’s everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.” (ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen)
“The fans scream for her, but they don’t really know the girl on the magazine covers–the girl with the guitar and the easy smile.” (OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord)
VOICE FILLED FIRST LINES:
“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” (THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness)
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” (The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger)
FUNNY FIRST LINES:
“There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” (THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER by C.S. Lewis)
 
Dear Reader, I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant.” (THE BAD BEGINNING by  Lemony Snicket)
This if my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” (THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman)
TENSION BUILDING FIRST LINES:
“Where are you?” Aunt Hannah demanded as soon as Alex thumbed talk. (ASHES by Ilsa Bick)
OOOOH, TELL ME MORE! (GOSSIPY) FIRST LINES:
“There was a boy in her room.” (FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell)
 
“This is how it all begins.” (I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson)
 
“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.” (THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater) [This one fits well in several categories]
 
“All I did was ask a stupid question.” (EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS BY A.S. King)
 
“There once was a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.” (STARDUST by Neil Gaiman)
 
“For the record, I wasn’t around the day they decided to become Dumb.” (FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB by Antony John)
 
“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” (THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan)
“Froggy Welsh the Fourth is trying to get up my shirt.” (THE EARTH, MY BUTT, and OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS by Carolyn Mackler)

“Look: I do not know where I actually came from.” (100 SIDEWAYS MILES by Andrew Smith) 

“I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.” (GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith) 
“My father is a control freak, I hate my stepmother, my brother is dead and my mother has…well…issues.” (PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry)
OH, SHIT! FIRST LINES:
“The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.” (THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by Emily M. Danforth)
 
“My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.” (JELLICOE ROAD By Melina Marchetta)
 
 
 
MYSTERIOUS/FORESHADOWING FIRST LINES:
“The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.” (WOOL by  Hugh Howey)
“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” (THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater)
 
I was raised to marry a monster.” (CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge)
WHY? FIRST LINES:
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.” (HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins)
 
“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.” (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Greene)
 
“My mother thinks I’m dead.” (LEGEND by Marie Lu)
 
“I was born with water on the brain.” (THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie)
 
“The very first thing I can remember is this: I am really, really mad at my mom for some reason.” (CURVEBALL: THE YEAR I LOST MY GRIP by Jordan Sonnenblick)
 
“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” (FEED by M.T. Anderson)
 
“There is one mirror in my house.”  (DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth)
 
“I’ve been locked up for 264 days.” (SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi)
 
“The weight of their pity is like a stone tied about my neck.” (DEFIANCE by CJ Redwine)
 
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. (HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHERS STONE BY J.K. Rowling)
“The night I cut off my hair, my mother told my father to leave.” (THE THINGS YOU KISS GOODBYE by Leslie Connor)

“One summer night I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke.” (ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz)

“He’d stopped trying to bring her back.” (ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell) 

“Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom.” (GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson) 
 
 
PLEASE LEAVE YOUR FAVORITE FIRST LINE IN THE COMMENTS, OR SHARE YOUR OWN PERSONAL FIRST LINES FROM YOUR WORK. 🙂 
 
 
In the interests of fairness, here are all my first lines for completed manuscripts, though I still don’t love all of these: 
 
I love to make a good first impression, but more often than not, I fail at it in the most awkward and embarrassing kinds of ways.
I am dead but not fully buried, so despite my hopes to the contrary, my eyes open on the first day of my senior year of high school.
 
I slide my thumbs down the back of Sylie’s thighs as Mika’s fingers slip under my shirt from behind, snaking their way up my chest.
 
A harsh reality check was the first requirement for starting a new day, and I never skipped it.
 
And here are the first lines for the 2 new works I’m contemplating drafting. I already have down the first chapter of both, because I was playing with voice. These will both likely change during drafting/editing: 
 
Not every villain looks like a lunatic, disfigured or costumed. 
 
When I pulled up to our 32nd house in five years, I made a promise to myself and to Cricket, right then and there.
 
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