Writer Wednesday | First Lines, Part I

First lines, like titles, are hard. Consider this Monty Python commentary:

Heh. British humor.

In a recent Huffington Post piece “The Power of a First Sentence,” Mark Rubinstein notes “a story’s first line is the author’s opening salvo. It may be a ‘hook’ or may operate on a more subtle level, if it does at all. The first sentence can foretell something about the story, or may set the tone for the entire work.” Rubinstein includes some of his personal favorites, and you can find other great first lines here.

I noticed in my past queued blog posts for Writer Wednesday, my own reflection and process has been somewhat absent. Inspired by another writing blog (that I neglected to save!), I’m going to go through some of my own first lines with a critique.

An untitled piece: Her dress was blazing white, a beacon of innocence and chastity on the horizon. 
I wrote this as a free write – basically banging the piece out over lunch. It’s not perfect, and it isn’t supposed to be. It’s definitely descriptive, but “was blazing” is lazy writing. A stronger sentence would be “Her dress blazed white, a beacon of innocence and chastity on the horizon.”

Write Who You Are NotI left the delivery room an hour earlier because my wife complained I was distracting her.
Meh. I do not love this one. It’s good framing the action, but it wouldn’t hook me to keep reading.

Judge, Jury, & ExecutionerAnd then, being mindful not to spill my tea, I eased into the tartan embrace of Endolyn Muirden’s least offensive armchair, and settled back to watch him die.
This is a challenge and the first sentence was provided. However, I love the action and description here as it completely immerses the reader.

Hunger Games Light/LiteI wake up with a start, an intense pain radiating from my legs.
Mother Justice likes this piece because it’s something her eighth-grade students would enjoy. I like it because it gives you a few pieces to puzzle over: what made the character wake up with a start? Why is (s)he in pain? It’s also a good ease into the anxiety and tension in the piece.

PennybackerWhen he was seven, Hunter slipped on his father’s boat, fell in Lake Austin, and saw merlings.
Call it divine inspiration, since this piece ended a rather rough bout of writer’s block, but the first line just came to me. The only thing I changed was the body of water – after researching the photographer, I stumbled upon the original photograph and more information about the setting. I thought it gave the piece more realism.

Fairy RingsMy laptop pings with a  “check this out!” email from an old college classmate.
Another “insert reader into action” first line. These are not my favorites, but this one seems to work well for the piece overall. You can’t punch people in the gut all the time.

The CottageHis road trip: set to a soundtrack of unremarkable 80s music and talk radio.
I struggled with this one, just because I wanted to mirror the structure later in the piece. However, I think unremarkable 80s music and talk radio is cliché and I wish I’d used something else.

Adventures in Babysitting: Can I at least watch TV?
Followed by a string of tween complaints and angst. I love it: reminiscent of youthful melodrama and a great set-up for the characters’ relationship.

Wolf Girls: Condensation on the glass cascades into a wet ring on the railing; it leaves a slick smear when I wipe it.
I originally had a much longer description of the scene – jazz and dandelion florets floating in the air, etc – but I like this one. It’s one of my better “atmosphere immersive” lines.

DawnShe closed her eyes and took in a deep breath.
This is a challenge and the first sentence was provided. From a writer’s perspective, it’s a great first line because it can lead anywhere – to a farm (my piece), a sniper on a mission, a scorned woman plotting revenge (ha!), or a knight on a quest.

Clipped Wings: Michael asks to see the doctor first.
A fairly standard framing first line. These are my least favorite to write, but probably the easiest and simplest from both a writer’s and reader’s perspective.

Check back next week for Part II, first lines for works in progress!

What are some of your favorite first lines and why?

2 thoughts on “Writer Wednesday | First Lines, Part I

  1. jannatwrites says:

    I love this analysis of your first lines. I really liked, “Condensation on the glass cascades into a wet ring on the railing; it leaves a slick smear when I wipe it.” I’m glad you removed the extra descriptions because this is “just enough”!

    I couldn’t resist- I looked back at some of mine and I have some pretty weak ones. (I do like this one from my recent post, Too Late, though: “He spied a blonde wearing too much lipstick and anger.” I think it sticks out because anger isn’t something you normally consider as being worn, and -I hope- it makes a reader curious to read on.)


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