Saturday, August 27, 2011

First Lines and First Bites

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading of first lines lately. I have taken several workshops on Beginnings including Hooks, Lines and Sinkers with Lynette Labelle, Great Beginnings with Lynn Kerstan, and others. At a Margie Lawson workshop last month she spent time sighting examples of well-written first lines.

We all know how important that first line is to hook your potential reader, agent or editor, so I have become a collector of inspiring first lines.

And in keeping with the theme of this blog, my quest for publication and my quest to get to my wedding weight, I realized that first lines are a lot like first bites. The more delicious they are, the more I want. At least with books I can satisfy the craving without gaining weight.

I also read recently that all the taste of food is held in the first three bites. The idea being I should be able to stop after those three bites. Not as easy as it sounds.

Luckily with a tantalizing first line, first paragraph, and first page I don’t have to stop. I can keep reading, just as the author enticed me to.

So here are some samples of my favorite first lines. I hope they inspire you too.

Risk,Dick Francis
Thursday, March 17, I spent the morning in anxiety, the afternoon in ecstasy, and the evening unconscious.

Ten Big Ones,Janet Evanovich (2004)
The way I see it, life is a jelly doughnut.  You don’t really know what it’s about until you bite into it.  And then, just when you decide it’s good, you drop a big glob of jelly on your best T-shirt.

(I had to add two more bites (I mean lines) because they were so delicious.)

Lord Dragoner’s Wife, Lynn Kerstan
19 June, 1814
The house at Clichy, old and somewhat dilapidated, did not look to be the residence of the woman who had all of Paris at her feet.

Going Overboard, Christina Skye
Carolina Sullivan needed a man’s body desperately.

Juliet Naked, Nick Hornby
They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.

Fear No Evil by Allison Brennan (2007)
The sick and depraved had voted: death by stabbing.

Dangerous Deceptions, Lynn Kerstan
Jarrett, Lord Dering, rode his astonishing good luck the way he rode an enthusiastic woman.

Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler (2001)
Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

The Spiral Path, Mary Jo Putney (2002)
The trouble with reality was that it was so dammed real.

Feel free to comment on your feelings concerning first lines and first bites.


  1. Hello, Suzanne.
    I love first lines. You have some great examples. I've bought books based on great first lines. Sometimes they indicate a great book, sometimes they are the only great thing about the book.
    Either way, a great hook can never be underestimated.
    Here's one for your collection:

    Darkness Bound,Larry Brooks,2000:
    She sat very still in her husband's favorite chair, sipping an exquisite Pinot Noir as she watched him die.

    Cheers, Kelly

  2. ANYTHING by Anne Tyler is worth reading. I would add Margaret Atwood's: We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
    from The Handmaid's Tale.

  3. Kelly, thanks for adding to my collection. I love it!

    Liz, I love both those authors, Margaret Atwood is one of my faves.

  4. Great first lines! of my fave first lines (though I didn't enjoy the book overall) is from Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet: "The boys came early to the hanging." (That's from memory, so it might not be exactly right.)

    For first bites..."It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him." from, of course, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

    Fun stuff!

  5. Great list. Here's another one...

    Feed by Mira Grant
    Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot - in this case, my brother Shaun - deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.

  6. Christine, ah yes I do know those first lines and they are good ones. You are so right about not always liking the overall book even with a good first line.

    KT, I love this line, definitely going in the collection.

  7. I did a post on great first lines a while back (at The intrigue and give you great confidence in the author.

  8. Suzie, this is so true. And it inspires me to create equally interesting first lines.

  9. Great post Suzanne. Loved the Dick Francis one - what a way to hook your readers :)

    Here's one of my favorites.

    Cherry Adair - Undertow

    Teal Williams looked like an unmade bed, and not one Zane Cutter wanted to sleep in.

  10. Amanda, I like it. Not a suspense or dead body one. Definitely adding to this one to the collection.