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:
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?