I love a great first line– like Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Or the over the top ridiculous of Elizabeth Eulberg’s character in REVENGE OF THE GIRL WITH THE GREAT PERSONALITY: “Applying butt glue to my sister’s backside is, without question, not the first way I’d choose to spend a weekend.” Or Tolkien’s simple “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Well written first lines seem effortless, a toss away comment that gets the story rolling. But make no mistake – those opening words are the most labored over ones in the entire book. Good first lines set up the story, introduce a character, establish a tone, and intrigue the reader. Every word is carefully chosen like a strawberry for a prize-winning pie.
So, dear reader, let’s break apart mine for a closer look at how it sets the scene.
“Lou hoisted up her gown and winced as she tottered across the parking lot.”Character: We meet Lou, the main character, and learn she is a woman with a masculine name. She’s wearing a gown and footwear so we can infer she’s on her way to a fancy event, but she’s also uncomfortable. She’s not smiling or laughing, but wincing. Given that she is tottering and hoisting, it’s also safe to assume she isn’t used to wearing those types of clothes.
Location: We can picture her in the parking lot, presumably on her way to a fancy event. Plus, walking in heels across a parking lot is always treacherous.
Tone: Words like hoisted and tottered are kind of funny, as are the image they create. There is nothing delicate or fancy about pulling up a beautiful dress. This is a glimpse at the type of humor you can expect from the rest of the book.
Reaction: Readers can relate to Lou’s struggle with uncomfortable clothes and feeling out of place. So immediately, you’re on her side.
That’s a peak into the hard work that a first line does. Share your favorite first lines in the comments. Or, if you’re a writer, share the first line from your book!
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