Friday, June 01, 2007

First Lines

First lines in a novel are supposed to be wildly important. Something to jump out at the casual browser and make him buy the book. I think this is mostly true. I try to come up with interesting first lines. And I admit when I pick up someone else's novel, I love an intriguing first sentence. But I wouldn't say all my novels have absolutely sparkling first lines. Some are definitely better than others.

If the first line isn't sparkling, however, I say the next one better be. The entire paragraph better be grabbing. The first page ... oh, yeah. Or the browser's long gone.

So I got to looking at all my first lines. I'll list them in order by book series--without comment. You can decide if one's a grabber or not. Perhaps, looking at the list, you'll gain some insights in general about what works and what doesn't for you. I did notice trends in my mine. I usually start with some statement or thought. Only one book opens with dialogue.

The first three are my women's fiction titles. The rest are suspense.

The last time I saw my mother alive, she was on her way to serve the poor.

Cast a Road Before Me (Bradleyville #1)

The boxes are heavy, their rough rope handles cutting into my palms.

Color the Sidewalk For Me (Bradleyville #2)

(This was the opening dream sequence beginning mentioned in my post on dreams last week--therefore it's in italics and in present tense. Okay--so I lied about no commenting.)

I remember how even the sky mourned with us, hanging in shades of gray, chilled and fitful.

Capture the Wind for Me (Bradleyville #3)

Beep-beep, beep-beep.

Eyes of Elisha (Chelsea Adams #1)

(Well, hey, dontcha wonder what's beeping?)

After twenty years of midnights among the dead, Victor Mendoza didn't spook easily.

Dread Champion (Chelsea Adams #2)

The noises, faint, fleeting, whispered into her consciousness like wraiths in the night.

Brink of Death (Hidden Faces #1)

He should have called the police.

Stain of Guilt (Hidden Faces #2).

Not so pretty in death, are you.

Dead of Night (Hidden Faces #3)

She was washing dishes when her world began to blur.

Web of Lies (Hidden Faces #4)

Paige Williams harbored a restless kinship with the living dead.

Violet Dawn (Kanner Lake #1)

Kill tonight -- or die.

Coral Moon (Kanner Lake #2)

"Really, is a heinous murder any reason to devalue such a glorious piece of real estate?"

Crimson Eve (Kanner Lake #3--releases this September)

Any man going on this mission wasn't coming back.

Amber Morn (Kanner Lake #4--releases April 2008)

Okay, there you have it. Peck away. Or perhaps you have some of your own to lay on me ...
(By the way, first chapters or other early excerpts of all my books can be read on my web site.)


Eileen said...

I like the statements which I relate to: The last time I saw my mother alive...; I remember how the sky mourned; She was washing dishes.

Hmmm, may I borrow those? LOL
Happy weekend.

Richard Mabry said...

You left out "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." Oh, wait. That wasn't you. I always get you confused with other great writers.
Thanks for sharing these with us, Brandilyn. They've inspired me to work on my own opening lines.

C.J. Darlington said...

Ooh. We get the first line of Amber Morn. Now I'm intrigued. I read the first chapter of Crimson Eve in the back of Coral Moon, and it really grabbed me. Looking forward to both!

The first line of my first novel is:

"Christy didn't see the cop until his lights spun in her rear view mirror."

C.J. Darlington said...

Oh, and you guys might like to know about our First Line Contest at (Yes, I know. Shameless plug.)

But every week we post a new first line of a Christian novel. You guess what book and author you think it came from, and we draw a name from all the correct answers to receive a free book!

If you're interested, the link is here.

You have one more day to enter this week.

C.J. Darlington said...

And while I'm on a roll ... Brandilyn, what do you do if you have a Prologue in your novels? Wouldn't you essentially have to write two first lines? Because both have to grab the reader.

rose mccauley said...

I agree with eileen--the statements I related to the most in my own life drew me into the story--"She was washing dishes... and the one about the mother dying, and also the one about the sky mourning makes me wonder why (I know 'cause I read the book, but I won't give it away!)The Amber Moon first line also grabbed me and made me wonder why no one would return from this mission.

The first line from my current WF is a silent prayer by the heroine: Oh God, please tell me we haven't made a huge mistake.

Since CJ gave a shameless plug, I'm gonna do the same and invite everyone to my blog at to win a copy of Robin Lee Hatcher's latest book "Return to Me" which has the first line of "You don't have any say in this, Dad. I don't need your permission. I'm twenty-five, for crying out loud."

Susanne said...

At the risk of showing how much I do not know about novel writing seeing I don't, you know, write novels, when browsing for a book, I don't read first pages. The cover description has to grab me or the inside flap description. Maybe that puts me in a small percentage of readers?

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

C.J.--a first line is a first line, whether in a prologue or first chapter. If a book includes a prologue, that's the start of the book. Probably half of these first lines are in prologues.

Susanne--people browse in different ways. The pattern of steps from casual browsing to deciding to buy is usually like this: (1) intrigued enough by cover/title to pick up book. (2) read back cover (or inside flap) copy. (3) Read beginning of book--maybe first page. (4) Buy book. You simply skip #3. Others who may have been intrigued too many times by back cover copy, only to find the actual writing is poor, may choose to check out how the book starts.

Jannie Ernst said...

My first line, unpublished still, is:

Nobody heard the stealthy click of the lock in the dead of night

How's that? Wanna know what's gonna happen next? Well, if the good Lord smiles on this one, hopefully you'll see it in the near future.

Cindy Thomson said...

I love reading first lines in novels.

Here's mine from Brigid of Ireland: (it's dialog. Is that unusual?)

Does it bother ye? Being a slave, I mean?

M. C. Pearson said...

I liked this one best:

After twenty years of midnights among the dead, Victor Mendoza didn't spook easily.

M. C. Pearson said...

Oh and here is my first line:

"It was an accident!" Mellie yelled, not caring who heard or stared at her as she ran.

Jill said...

I like the opening line from Crimson Eve. Here's the first line from my WIP, What Time I Am Afraid:
"Those were definitely gunshots."

Scott from Oregon said...

Nearly two hours before dawn on a cold November moonless night, there was light where there should have been darkness.