Wednesday, September 12, 2007

First lines

How important is the first line of a book? A few weeks ago I bought a stack of remaindered books based on their cover and/or a great first line and couldn't read any of them.

Random first lines from my book case:

My life-my real life-started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and, yes, I know how that sounds. From Love Walked In by Marisa de Los Santos. Pretty good opener huh? It was a great book too.

I, Doris Weatherall, am in the process of becoming a hateful person, or a snob, or just flat-out bitter. From Flyover States by Grace Grant and P.J. MacAllister, a very funny, enjoyable read.

For more than two hundred years, the owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town. From Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, and every line in the book is perfect.

"Where my panties at?" I asks him. From Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks, and you know you want to keep reading, don't you? And you should. It's amazing.

'Your mum and dad came on a banana boat,' that was what the bully boys at my primary school used to say. From Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy, which I haven't been able to finish yet.

It was a morning thick with winter and a surprising sun. And the light was early. From Daughter by asha bandele. Beautiful, right?

Now, here is the first line from Orange Mint and Honey: I should have known things were getting bad when Nina Simone showed up. Hopefully, it's intriguing. This book had MANY first lines, many opening scenes.

And here is the first line from my wip, Novel 2: If it’s a girl, I’ll name her Samadhi. (And I'm going to cheat a bit and give the whole 1st paragraph) Union in Hindi. Billie Cousins said it out loud, “Samadhi,” and placed seven drops of sunflower oil mixed with lavender and rose essential oils into the palms of her hands.

It's anybody's guess if this remains the opening.

Okay, I showed you mine. You show me yours. What's the opening line to your wip?


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

All right, I'll play. Here's my current first line:

"I’m in the kitchen listening to Sally and Kate chatter while they play with their paper dolls in the alcove by the front bay window."

Lisa said...

I'm in.

"Tash made three unsuccessful tries before finding the perfect windshield wiper interval to match the light mist of late afternoon rain."

Carleen Brice said...

Judy, I'm curious about your choice of present tense. Is that difficult to pull off for a whole book...or easier?

Both of these first lines set a mood and tone very quickly, which is tough to do.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Carleen, Good question. I have two narrative lines--and only one is in 1st person present tense--it's what worked for the voice--and even though it's a major character, it's probably onyl 1/3 of the whole book. It was just how she came to me--very much in the moment. I think ti would be weird/irritating to try to do for the whole book, though.

Lisa--I like your character already--and your attention to a tiny detail that so many of us can relate to.

Sustenance Scout said...

Two very different lines, two immediately accessible scenes, two characters we'd like to know well. Lisa, I love the name Tash, btw.

Here's the first line from my wip that's currently otbb (on the back burner):

"She woke to find Jason by her hospital bed with a doctor she didn’t know, no baby in sight."

Tayari Jones said...

here's mine.

"My father, James Whiterspoon, is a married man."

Carleen Brice said...

Judy, I was curious because I've seen present tense used a lot more lately and I'm wondering (using the present tense) why.

Karen, Whoa! That is a very intriguing opening line!

Lisa, I like the name Tash too!

Carleen Brice said...

Tayari, we were posting at the same time. LOVE that as an opening line because you want to think what's the big deal with a person's father being a married man. And the answer lies in who her father is married to.

Sustenance Scout said...

Ooh yeah, another good one!

Carleen Brice said...

How could I forget this one: the first sentence of A Wrinkle in Time (which I just started) is: It was a dark and stormy night.

Lisa said...

I hope Judy doesn't mind that I share this, but I was lucky enough a while back to get a peek at what she's doing. It works really well! Karen, yours is really gripping, pulls the reader in and launches into massive tension right away. Now I'm worried sick and fear the worst. I love Tayari's because that statement tells me right away that it's significant and makes me want to know the context and why the narrator is telling me this. Also makes me anxious and tense.

Ms. Peri said...

I'm in, too!

Here's my first line. It's very short, so I'll add the next paragraph also:

I’m waiting for the line.

No, not “a” line; “the” line. The one that usually arrives sometime during the first hour of a three-hour blind date. The one customarily delivered in public places. The one that begins with something like, “I’d love to go out on Saturday, but I need to stay home for a while, it’s sort of a condition of my parole…” Or, “I guess I could have mentioned thatx before I kissed you, but the doctor says I’m not contagious…” Or, “As a matter of fact, I was on Jerry Springer, and before you ask — yes, cross-dressing remains a highly sensitive issue for me…”

Carleen Brice said...

Very funny, Ms. Peri!