First lines, and a New Year

I’ve been struggling with the opening pages of the story I’m working on lately – writing, rewriting, chopping, slashing, rearranging punctuation and words. Frustrating! So I decided to check out some first lines of middle grade novels I keep close at hand:

When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.” 


Jacob held his pointer finger just above his thumb, forming a small rectangular box in the air. He closed one eye, held the box up to his open eye, and trapped puny little Majok in the frame.” – A HARE IN THE ELEPHANT’S TRUNK  (moi)

Uncle Ted said Jimmy bumped his head falling off the swing. He said Jimmy just seemed to let go of the chains when he reached the highest arc, and he fell, thunk, to the ground and lay still.” Hartry


The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories.” Vanderpool


They’re all very different openings, but what they have in common is that they invite the reader in to the story, and they raise questions – who is this person, and what’s going to happen to them? First lines must be full of the ever-elusive “voice”, set the tone, convince the reader it’s worth his/her time to read further.

I wrestle with beginning lines a lot more than closing lines. Not sure what that says about me or my writing process. In particular, I’m never fully convinced I’ve started the story in exactly the “right place”. There are rules about creating first lines with a lot of oomph, but there are also many examples of amazing books that completely break those rules, and all fiction-writing rules, in fact (example – “It was a dark and stormy night.” – A WRINKLE IN TIME, L’Engle).

Here’s a great blog post about first lines, specifically in relation to middle grade novels:

I’m usually inspired to get back to work when January 1st rolls around – how about you? Any fabulous first lines you’ve stumbled upon (or written) lately? Hope 2014 will be a banner year for you and yours – full of peace, health and love.

8 thoughts on “First lines, and a New Year

  1. I’m with you, Jan. That first line/lines/paragraphs are sometimes difficult to pin down. But I have lots of confidence in your ability, maybe even more than my own. 😉 I know you’ll get it.

  2. mirkabreen

    I don’t know why, but the first line is often the first to come to me. Seems they have become an art form all their own. Good luck and inspiration to you with your WIP.

    1. It’s a funny thing to dwell (obsess) on the opening lines when you consider how many more there are to follow… I’m still hard at it, waking up in the middle of the night with brilliant solutions that somehow lose their sheen in the light of day:)

  3. First lines are always tricky but I don’t think they have to be mind blowing. They do however need to set the tone.I just read a book with a great opening, “The mirror on the back of the bathroom door’s all cloudy. Makes me look like an angel.” I read on and wasn’t disappointed. I’m sure you’ll come up with another great opening Jan.

  4. Thank you for sharing these wonderful first lines, Jan. I struggle with first lines, too, because I am one of those picky readers who need to be “hooked” from page one. It is a great feeling when you hit on *just* the right one, though!

    1. Nice to have you stop by, Becky! I’ve rewritten my opening pages several times since this blog post – never giving up seems to be a key factor in this crazy writing game! I’ll admit to giving a book at least a chapter to hook me, but it’s great when the first paragraphs are enough.

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