Hook, first line, and sinker…

Some writing advice will tell you that the very first line in your story is tremendously important.

That’s not true at all.

What is important is your first page — you need to grab your readers and make them interested enough to continue reading. You want to get an image into their heads with a question that needs answering, and which can only be discovered by turning the page.

That doesn’t have to be done in the first line. Some of the greatest stories ever written don’t do that in the first line. Don’t feel so pressured by the thought that you have to grab the reader quickly that you give up, frustrated at a near-impossible goal. For that matter, don’t pressure yourself to have such a powerful first line that you put one in that doesn’t fit the feel or theme of the story just because you think you have to hit your reader over the head the second they start.

However…

… if you can grab your reader in the very first line, you’re a step ahead of everyone else. It’s a great feeling when you read a story and the very first line makes you go “Whoa. This is cool. I have to keep reading…”

So I decided to look back on the anthologies I have edited and co-edited to pick out my favorite first lines. Mind you, these aren’t necessarily my favorite stories in those anthologies. But you have to admit, these make you want to keep reading, don’t they?

George was absolutely certain he hadn’t been holding a sword a moment ago. – Kenneth Schneyer, “Foursomes,” Across the Universe

In the investigation that followed, it was determined the entire affair might have avoided if the mission planners had been a bit less clever in programming Bai Juyi’s AI network. – Allen Steele, “Come Together,” Across the Universe

It was still two days before the next big storm would hit, but the artificial islands that could afford to come in already were taking all the best sound-side spots, all along Seattle’s drowned edge, and surrounding the Space Needle’s raft settlement. – Cat Rambo, “All You Need,” Across the Universe

Hello, I’m Paul, and I’ve died 62 times. – Patrick Barb, “When I’m #64,” Across the Universe

Katie Spillane took the elevator down to the front security desk at 2:00 a.m. with a cup of coffee in each hand and her ulterior motive in the front pocket of her hoodie. – Matt Bechtel, “Cracking the Vault,” Release the Virgins!

I questioned my life choices when the address I arrived at for my job interview turned out to be a Dunkin’ Donuts. – Alex Shvartsman, “The Coffee Corps,” Release the Virgins!

The first thing Watson noticed was that the victim’s eyeballs had exploded. – Derek Beebe, “A Study in Space,” Baker Street Irregulars 2: The Game is Afoot

Normally, finding a dead cat is a bad thing, especially when it’s nailed to your front door. – Bernie Mozjes, “The Mystery of the Dead Cat in the Darkness,” Tales of Fortannis: A Bard Day’s Knight

Other than the guest of honor, everyone enjoys a good hanging. – Mark Mensch, “Thieves Among Honor,” Tales of Fortannis: A Bard Act to Follow

Of the stories I’ve written, I guess my favorite opening line is from a story that has yet to be sold, but maybe I’m biased because it’s the most recent thing I’ve written:

Killing Jesus was an accident; deciding to take his place was the mistake.

But most of my short stories have first lines that are not quite as catching:

I knew that expression.

Irad poked at the lifeless body.

“Braaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnsssssss.”

I felt seasick.

Darvin stared at the floor.

The novels seem to be a bit catchier for some reason.

Stage fright consumed me as I peered through the curtain, fist clenching my lute. – “Arch Enemies”

The shock of hearing one’s own name conspiratorially whispered is a great awakener. – “The Axes of Evil”

Cool water rolled slowly down her neck, curving between perfect breasts, caressing her
stomach.
– “Bloodsuckers: A Vampire Runs for President”

“God has no need for dynamite!” – “Big Stick”

The point is this: If you can come up with a great first line, wonderful. But you don’t need it. Don’t stress over it.

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