Great first lines

I’ve been trying to write a great first sentence in my stories lately. It’s extremely hard to do. So I’ve been checking out popular books and see what their first sentence is.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
-Gunslinger, Stephen King

Lady Firebird Angelo was trespassing.
-Firebird, Kathy Tyers

I’ve never been what you call a crying man.
11/22/63, Stephen King

Emma bolted out of the door of the rundown diner, pulling her five-year-old son behind her.
Chosen, Denise Grover Swank

The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.
Blood Rites, Jim Butcher

“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.
A Game of Thrones book 1, George R.R. Martin

She ran, tree limbs and brambles scratching, grabbing, tripping, and slapping her as if they were bony hands, reaching for her out of the darkness.
The Oath, Frank Peretti

See how important first sentences are? Some of these grab me more than others. Some of these I’ve read and some I haven’t. I’ve been working on tightening up the first chapter, and particularly the hook, of the story I’ve been working on.

The first sentence used to be:

Carda sat in his Miata at the red light on a metered ramp, gripping his steering wheel.

And now it’s:

James “Carda” Chase had never intended to total his car.

It’s not perfect yet, but the hook is sharper than it was. It’s amazing how much better a story is after it’s been cut and cut and cut.

Do you have a favorite first line from a book? Or have you written a sharp hook that you’re proud of?

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4 thoughts on “Great first lines

  1. Reading only the first sentence in the books you’ve mentioned makes me want to read the rest of the book. I’d like to see a detailed examination of what makes a good first hook; it has to be brief enough to capture the attention of the reader and interesting enough to inspire continued reading.

    As a contrast, take a look at the first sentence in something non-fiction. A blog. A textbook. What makes you want to continue reading this type of literature? Is there something that fiction and non-fiction might have in common?

    Great, now I have to go write something.

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  2. I read a long time ago that good hooks are: An anecdote, a quotation (for nonfiction), dialogue, action … I know there were others, but I can’t remember. But isn’t that educational? I just went off the bestsellers on Amazon and lifted their first sentences.

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  3. “This time there would be no witnesses. ”
    From Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

    Because having a brain that must have been fairly on fire with ideas and a wicked sense of satirical humor tends to help with writing first lines, I suspect. Perhaps the aim is to want the reader to feel that you, the author, know just a little bit more than you’re letting on at the moment but that with some persistance they too can learn these great secrets.

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