First Lines

First lines have a hard job. In the first line you need to get the reader interested enough to continue reading. The first line should raise his curiosity, stimulate his interest. I looked at some first lines chosen at random from books at our excellent library.

1.

“Beth stood in shadows behind her nearest neighbor’s house, listening to her husband’s drunken laugh.”

from Aunt Granny Lith by Christ Offutt.

This line was effective. Immediately there is a lot going on, but the line is not too long. I am introduced to three characters and there is a feeling of action, even in Beth’s listening. Right from the beginning I feel like I am in the story, and I want to read more.

2.

“I steal.”

from Lawns by Mona Simpson.

This line is so short I continue reading to find out what the author means. I want to know what is going on.

3.

“Every so often that dead dog dreams me up again.”

from Dog Heaven by Stephanie Vaughn.

This sentence certainly was effective at attracting my attention. So much that I read it again, afraid I had misread something. Dog dreams are a source of curious speculation, so dead dog’s dream so much more. I think this was one of the most effective lines I read that day.

4.

“Her name was Louise.”

from The Fat Girl by Andre Dubus.

This line was not as powerful with me. It is short, so it didn’t waste a lot of time telling me so little, but the question in my mind was “what happened to Louise?” At the end of the line I was not very invested in the story.

5.

“Imagine him in his prime.”

from Minor Heroism by Allan Gorganus.

This short line introduces the first paragraph, and as such draws me into the story. It is asking me to keep reading. On its own it doesn’t draw strongly, but its power is in its economy.

As I read these and thought about them, I realized how ineffective my own first lines are, and intend to craft them with more skill in the future.

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