Craft of Writing: First Lines!


#1

I know many of us are super busy with NaNoWriMo, the upcoming holidays, the CoG contest, so I thought I’d keep this Craft entry easy!

FIRST LINES

How much do we think about first lines? Well, after attending a writers’ conference and after listening to a gazillion writing podcasts, I’ve come to conclude that I should probably think more about my first line of CCH2 (and all other things I write).

How do you pull the reader in?

How do you write a line that DARES them to put that book down?

How do you cram in conflict, explicit or implied, in just one line?

EXAMPLES:

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”

Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca: “The last camel collapsed at noon.”

Those authors are DARING you to put that book down. I mean, in both situations your mind is already racing with possibilities.

So now I look at the first line (for now) for Community College Hero Part 2:

“Crook points to a pair of gang members staggering from a dive bar below.”

So I analyzed it, and I think it’s not horrible. It does cram in a lot of info.

  1. You’re with Crook
  2. Gang members, perhaps dangerous, are close by!
  3. They are staggering from a bar, so probably drunk
  4. and they are “below,” which implies we are up high somewhere

So again, not horrible. But I don’t think it grabs readers like the above examples. So I’m considering if I can rewrite the first line to make it more gripping. I’ll post on here later this week if I create what I think is a stronger first line.

TO EVERYONE:

  1. Comment below with the first line of your WiP or a story you’ve already written! Analyze the first line; what does it accomplish? What tone does it set? Does it dare the reader to put down the story?

  2. Would you re-write the first line if you have the chance or are you happy with it?

  3. Comment with an example of an AWESOME first line from a novel, comic book, etc that you think should be shared.

  4. Have you come across an AWESOME first line in a CoG or HG that you’d like to share? Post it!


#2

Huweeeheehee…

Little one, let me be your eyes, your ears, your lips, and your skins.

To be honest, I don’t know what does it accomplish. Perhaps, the confusion itself is what I want to achieve?


  1. To be honest (again), I’m pretty happy with it. Besides, it’s like the 4th verse I’ve written just for the opening.

I don’t think this line is an awesome line, but it’s definitely a line where my inspiration came from.
It’s from Hollow Knight the game.

FYI, this line is the first one of the a-a-b-b… rhyme-verse? Pantun?


And finally, for the number four…
Nope, unfortunately :frowning_face:


#3

The first line from my WIP, The Magician’s Task, is, “You hit the ground with a thud, your hands scraping against the hard cobblestone street.”

I do think it’s interesting. It’s a bit of '“in media res” (did I say that right?) in that it portrays to the reader that they’re already in some kind of trouble. It probably could be improved somehow, though.

Easily my favorite first line in literature is from The Knife of Never Letting Go: “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that they don’t got nothing much to say.”

'Nuf said. :joy:


#4

Here is the first line of a proof of concept I recently wrote:

My first line sets the tone, the time-line for the story (sometime in the near-future) and the circumstances of the story taking place.

The tone is one of danger and mystery …

I believe it fits rather well with your prior examples of daring the reader to put the story down (although at 1000 words or so, it was short to begin with)

I am happy with it and the entire proof - it validated the brain-power the concept took up for several days and received positive feedback.

I really think most people in this community write decent first lines. I can’t think of anyone turning me off with theirs, so that is a good thing of itself. The first lines always seem to blend into the whole for me in these CoG and Hosted works - they are keys for me to continue forward, moreso then in regular novels and stories.


#5

Good prompt.

  1. “You are dead.”
  2. Happy with it.
  3. 100 Best First Lines from Novels
  4. “In the middle of the coldest day of the spring, you ponder the Apocalypse.” - Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven

#6
  1. (from my game WIP)

You haven’t slept this well in… forever, come to think of it.

What I at least tried with it was to give a sense of ‘Okay, the worst seems behind you. For now. You deserved this bit of rest’

(from one of my novels)

The Amaranth-District in the north of the capital was a maze.

Intrigue. Why are we here? What could possibly go wrong in a maze like array of paths and buildings (sarcasm :wink: ))

  1. I tend to rewrite stuff till i’m happy with it before typing anything up. It’s a curse and a blessing.

  2. (can’t think of any atm. wth Dx )

  3. I loved the take on the quote from Pride&Prejudice in Aetherfall.


#7

I am sold on this line alone.


#8

Okay I really dig @JimD 's first line there.


#9
  1. “My world is red.” - - Not a WiP yet but something I’m tooling around with. This being the one where I have a clear opener. This is from a first person narrative introducing the setting. The actual game part incidentally starts with… “Your world is red.”

  2. No. This is the one I’m happy with.

  3. “In the beginning the Universe was created.
    This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” Cheating by using two sentences but it’s such a classic.

  4. Life of a Wizard, but I don’t have the quote handy. Technically, the first sentence is, “Wizards.” I guess.


#10

I love this topic.

I spent a great amount of time wondering about how to start a cog. In novels, you have to introduce the readers to the story. Maybe in the realm of - where does it start, who is this about, what’s going to happen, setting the tone, a hook. In a cog game, you have to introduce something like that, but you also have to put the reader in the place of the main character.

It’s interesting to balance.

For a passion project, I’m turning an old story into a game and I don’t know how much is going to change. It’s a Victorian necromancer/mystery/romance/horror (kind of a play off Frankenstein) and there is a lot more definition to the role of the mc, and other characters, than my other games. Anywho, it’s:

“To say he was simply obsessed with death downplays the nature of his devotion.”

I think it definently sets up the next (the real ‘first’) scene, and setting, at least. :robot:


#11

First line from my ZE novel.
“He awoke in the hallway of the apartment building with his wife still gnawing on the flesh of his thigh.”


#12

First line of ADoN:

Your back is pressed against a cold, flat surface.

This is sort of bittersweet to me, in my opinion. On one hand, it represents the feel of the story well. The story shoves the MC into a harsh and grim reality, where superpowered people are feared/hated rather than revered. On the other hand, I feel like it wouldn’t make sense on its own. Like, it has to be connected with the rest of the paragraph in order to unlock its full potential.

I mean, it’s sort of halfway. I’m satisfied with the line, but I think it could definitely be better.

The one from Keeper Of The Sun And Moon really stood out to me:

You never see it coming.

Because, this line just doesn’t apply to the gorgon fight at the beginning of the game. It applies to the whole game. Being pulled into a magic world, finding out you’re a mythical species, being sucked up into all the politics of the world.

You never really saw any of it coming.


#13

First line from my current WiP, The Rivers of Godsgate: “The markings on the ruined wall, gritty and crumbling, are uneven beneath your searching fingers.”

It’s meant to suggest we’re looking for something mysterious, or at the least obscure; what are we looking for? Why are we using fingers on markings? What’s this ruined wall and why are we down here?

I’m going to rewrite it in edits, probably a dozen times, but I promised myself not to edit until the first draft is totally finished. So for now, the line lives in the digital writers’ equivalent of Davy Jones’ locker, alas.

I have lots, but a quick favourite is from Le Fantôme de l’Opéra:

“Le fantôme de l’Opéra a existé.”

Loosely translated: “The phantom of the Opera did, indeed, exist.”

What ghost? And what opera?? Very-young-me was hooked, and I still love the line.

I also like A. C. Doyle’s penchant for throwing out both the setting and the hook with an opening line, even if the sentences are probably a bit long for most modern tastes. (Or sometimes include dialogue, what horror.)

I confess to really, really being fond of the opening of Choice of the Dragon:

“Let us begin.”

Such a beginning it is, too.

Also honourable mention to MetaHuman Inc.:

“Winston Q is alone in the Nostradamus Room, waiting for you.”

I was so excited when I read that first line, because really, what a name and what a room, and then it rapidly got even more captivating.

And from Deathless: City’s Thirst:

“You’ll die in this desert, and if you’re lucky, you’ll stay dead.”

So certain not that we may die, but that we will die—and then to worry about not staying dead? Sounds like a delightful time from the very beginning.


#14

Uhhh…

45 PM

Oh no.


Well, actually I suppose it depends, technically the very, very first line of Model Citizens: Unmasked is not a sentence, it’s a time stamp.

36 PM

It’s interesting but when I started it like that I wanted to establish a more… cinematic tone. The way some movies start with time stamps or such, it doesn’t say much but it does distinguish the fact that this specific time must be special in some way. Then later on when the story actually begins it establishes something of a countdown (as the story goes backwards first before it can go forwards) so it’s more a set-up for that future feeling of counting down until you once more get to that specific time.

But as a first line on it’s own first line merits, it’s not much. So it’s actually interesting to compare that with a linear story I write occasionally in my own time, which begins with a more… traditional idea of a first line. It begins with:

There’s a woman standing in the corner with the head of a bird.

Which in and of itself does also say very little but still more than just a time code. Specifically:

  • There’s a woman
  • She’s noted to be in the corner which could imply that she’s away from the crowd or otherwise secluded/apart.
  • She has the head of a bird.

Again doesn’t say very much but it does set up a lot of questions:

  • Why is she in the corner? Is she actually away from people or are there others there with her?
  • Why is she special? Is it because of the bird-head?
  • Is having the head of a bird normal in this world? Or is it an odd thing?

Arguably a better first line, yeah? And yet…

Even though one is arguably better then the other (at least, in my opinion it is) I wouldn’t really change either (polish them up a bit, yeah, but), because both set the tones I want for each story. In one- I want it to appear more cinematic and fun, both the onomatopoeia and the timestamp, depending on which one you choose to take as a ‘first line’ accomplish this kinda thing. The other is meant to be more mysterious and whimsical, which I think the whole ‘why does she have the head of a bird, what is going on here’ questions do kind of accomplish? At least I would hope they do.

My favorite first line of a book is from Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, which is this:

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler."

I love it, and it’s even better when you’re actually settling down to read the book. It’s simple and it definitely sets up how the rest of the book feels.

For this I would have to ditto @Fiogan and say that Deathless: City’s Thirst has an amazing first line.


#15

The first line in my dark fantasy chess WIP, 64 Knightmares: “The king is dead, strangled by the intestines of his last knight.”


#16

Making me reconsider mine. It starts with “The year is 2335.” Not exactly a grabber. And the inclusion of Hitchhiker’s opening above is a good reminder of what can be done with a more light-hearted open. A later sentence in the intro is “Like everything else, surviving extinction is a learning experience.” Might make a better starting line.


#17

It was the darkness; it smothered everything like a blanket, it’d always lent the apartment an unearthly atmosphere.

That was the opening line to the novel I did before I found choicescript and it is the only first line I’m proud of in over 20 years of writing.


#18

…for the knight is dark and full of terrors. :open_mouth:


#19
  1. First line of Choice of Rebels: “No one ever asks when your rebellion began.” Not a grabber like Gaiman’s, but I think it invites you into the story well enough. It tells you that this is about the start of a rebellion, and that the story may be more complicated than it seems.

  2. There’s no rewriting it now. :slight_smile:

  3. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

  4. In addition to upvoting Deathless: City’s Thirst (which fits everything that’s good about the original Deathless’s opening paragraph into a single line), I’ll put in a good work for WIllow Creek: “The cell door closes with a clank that sounds like a verdict.”.


#20
  1. First line of ADoN: "Your back is pressed against a cold, flat surface."
    Like @AAO, I feel bittersweet about this line. While I think it could definitely be better, it also serves my purposes quite well. It sets the tone for the rest of the game, since it’s really not going to be a light-hearted story.

  2. Considering I rewrote the entirety of the Prologue at least five times before I even let anyone else see it, yes, it’s safe to say I’ll eventually come up with a better one.

  3. “Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” I think the opening line of the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians book is a rather interesting one, so much so that I actually remember it. It did quite the good job of pulling my twelve year old self in.

  4. I’d also like to upvote the first line of Deathless: City’s Thirst


And this is the first line of a side project of mine, namely a short story that funnily enough, takes place in the PJO universe:

“Mia stares in horror at the creature burning between her hands, black flame enveloping its putrid skin and melting its flesh as it struggles to get free from her and the abyssal fire that licks at her arms and hands.”

Is it good in my opinion? I think so.

Is it good enough, though? Definitely not. Like anything else I make, it’ll be rewritten multiple times before I’m actually satisfied with it.