When I was younger and grew up reading mostly fantasy (Magician by Raymond E. Feist is one of my all-time favourites) I didn’t pay attention to a lot. I just loved the magic, the dragons, the story. Looking back, when reading Magician for a fifth time, I noticed that the first line is objectively dull.

The storm had broken.

This seems to do everything that every writer I’ve ever met has told me to avoid when writing an opening line. Its dull, cliche and refers to the weather, rather than some action or a character. It seems like it was intended to be intense, dramatic, stirring. Maybe I’ve read the book too many times, but it doesn’t quite match up to the excellent story-telling of the latter half of the first chapter.

Another book I’ve always loved is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, dramatically different from Feist’s Magician. Capote’s book begins:

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.'”

I love this first line. We have setting and emotion and a good indication of the writing style.

I’ve only written two long-form pieces. The first line doesn’t matter, not for those who aren’t impatient readers, like your agents and your publishers. In such a long story the first line usually fades away, only to be relived over and over when you want to check what the first line was.

My first first sentence  was:

“I carry my hair downstairs in a red plastic bag.”

This is a pretty grim story. I think the first line gives you a sense of what’s going on, and the tone of voice the story will be told in.

My second, which is the first line of my current project, a novel entitled “A Boat Called Calamity” is:

At the bottom of the concrete staircase was a pool of green water, lit by a stained fluorescent light.”

I’m not so sure about this one. I don’t like “was a pool of green water.” This doesn’t seem immediate enough for me. To be honest, this line is unlikely to stay in the finished piece. I’m thinking of shifting the whole story backwards, so this will probably be one or two chapters in when I’ve finished it. Maybe I’ll keep it there as a sort of memento. Only I know that it was once the original first sentence.

Either way, it’s best not to get get too caught up with the first sentence. It’s something that can be changed over and over and and over and over and over.

What do you think of my first sentences? What’s your favourite first sentence, one you’ve written, or one you’ve found?





7 thoughts on “ON FIRST SENTENCES

  1. For the record, I don’t think that this is a bad first line: “At the bottom of the concrete staircase was a pool of green water, lit by a stained fluorescent light.” At the very most, it needs some rewording to make it stand out more, or just to give it a little more atmosphere.

    Something like: “A stained fluorescent light lit the pool of green water at the bottom of the concrete staircase.” My Internal Editor keeps staring at that “pool of green water” and telling me that there must be a more concise way to phrase that. He also keeps pointing at “at the bottom of the concrete staircase.” Maybe break up each element of the sentence (the stained fluorescent light, the pool of green water, and the bottom of the concrete staircase) so they aren’t all rammed into the same sentence.

    Maybe have someone come down the stairs?

    Anyway, that’s just my thoughts on it. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Can’t believe I missed these comments, silly WordPress! Glad I came back and checked over some old posts…apologies for not replying because I actually did use your suggestion! In the story a man comes downstairs with a bicycle, making the whole thing a bit more action-packed and vivid.

      Belated thanks for your suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Move the verb: “At the bottom of the concrete staircase a pool of green water was lit by….. or “the pool of green water at the foot of the concrete staircase was lit by …” How important is it that the staircase is concrete? Or that the pool is situated in that particular place? As you say, you will play with it, change it and maybe scrub it altogether – all useful actions

    One of mine: “It was a perfect day for a funeral”. I like opening sentences to grab the reader’s attention and react: What is a perfect day for a funeral? whose funeral? ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks FP, missed replying to these comments somehow! I took what you said about moving the words around and have changed them a dozen times now. In the end I realised that the best solution was to completely rework the line!

      I really like your first line, definitely would like to read that story. Short and full of emotion.

      Belated thankyou for your comment, apologies for not getting back to you sooner…


    • You know, I still haven’t read Lolita. I should really add that on the list.

      In the end I completely reworked the sentence. Just wasn’t working for me.

      Belated thank you for your comment!


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