Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The All Important First Line

As I ponder revisions on my own YA, I’ve been thinking about first lines. What about all those rules we've been told about first lines. Is it true that you shouldn’t mention the weather? Do you have to mention the MC right out of the gate? Are you not supposed to start with dialogue?

So I decided to do a quick review. I pulled ten YA books off my shelf (variety of genres) and looked at their first sentences. In some cases, if they were short, I pulled the first two. What do you notice they have in common?

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: I have three simple wishes. They’re not really too much to ask.

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting: Violet Ambrose wandered away from the safety of her father as she listened to the harmony of sound weaving delicately around her.

The Summer I turned Pretty by Jenny Han: We’d been driving for seven thousand years. Or at least that’s how it felt.

Possession by Elana Johnson: Good girls don’t walk with boys. Even if they’re good boys—and Zenn is the best.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: If you live around New Orleans and they think a hurricane might be coming, all hell breaks loose.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White: “Wait—did you—You just yawned!” The vampire’s arms, raised over his head in the classic Dracula pose, dropped to his sides.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis: Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.”Mom wanted me to go first.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally: I once read that football was invented so people wouldn’t notice summer ending.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

What do you think? Seriously, if you noticed something they all have in common, you’re a better person than I am.

Some are short, some are almost poetic in their prose. Some start with dialogue. Some mention the character’s name.

The one common denominator is that ALL OF THEM MAKE YOU WANT TO READ MORE. And I guess that’s all you can ask from a first line. Go back and look at the first line of your book. Do you think it makes people want to read more?


  1. Ah, you have mentioned that ever present pressure as an that first line good enough? I spend a lot of time on the first line and last line...and all the sentences a picture book author. But it is always there....that wanting the opening to make people want to read more. Good luck with your revision!

    1. So true - it's a sure-fire way of stalling on a first draft, and then the booknever gets written (if you're me).

  2. So true. For me, as a reader, a great first sentence is terrific, but I don't base on reading the book based on 1 sentence. In fact, a book could have a killer first sentence but if the voice and writing don't hook me by the end of the first page, there's a good chance I won't keep reading. But I usually give it a chapter.

  3. That is something I pay attention too, but like Laura said, I never stop at the first sentence. I've read some boring first sentences, but the book is amazing. Sometimes I think we focus too much on that first sentence and forget about the rest of the paragraph, the page, the book.

    Great post!

  4. Sure the first line is important, but (as a reader) my general rule is 50 pages. Maybe that's a little too lenient, but I like to give authors a chance.

  5. I agree with you all--I totally won't stop at a first line. And it's always interesting to go back and see if the first line connects to the rest the book in some way.