Friday, July 10, 2020

Fabulous First Lines in Fiction

Happy Friday, Seeker villagers! Every third month, when my Friday rolls around, I suffer from a serious case of imposter syndrome. Panic sets in over the dreaded questions - What will I write about? Do I HAVE anything to contribute that anyone will care about? Will this be the month that I turn in my Seekerville badge and slink off to the 'I'm not a writer' corner? 

As predicted, I talked myself off that same ledge this month too. I came up with - and rejected - several ideas and finally remembered this little tidbit: on my own blog, I recently celebrated completing 200 'First Line Friday' posts. That's 200 posts of potential Seekerville post material! Eureka! I'm saved to survive on Seekerville for another three months!

Now, I am admittedly not an author. So I can't talk a lot about the technique and craft of first lines, but I can share some of my favorite first lines in fiction and look at what they have in common. (And fortunately for me, Debby Giusti talked about first lines/chapters last year!)

Let's start out with a little game! Can you match these classic first lines to their books? (I'll post the answers in the comments) 

The books you have to choose from for the above first lines are: 
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville

And here are some recent faves I've loved from the 200 'First Line Friday' posts I've done on my blog: 


Aren't they great? What are some things they have in common (including the classic first lines in our little game)?

  • They immediately grab your attention. Maybe you're chuckling at some poor soul being voluntold for horrors unknown, unfortunate Eustace Clarence Scrubb of the almost-deserved name, or a crime-committing mama raccoon. Maybe you're captivated by the clever (or poetic) wordsmithing. Maybe you're just plain intrigued by what comes after that first line - where could it go from here? Regardless, each of these twelve first lines definitely (and immediately) has you committed to discovering the rest of the book. 
  • They are a bit vague. By that, I mean that a captivating first line raises more questions than it answers. Who was voluntold for what? Who is Ishmael & why do we care? (spoiler alert - we don't.) Why did poor Eustace almost deserve his name, and why only almost? What caused that 'swell of instant silence and intense heat'? This immediate need for more information again engages the reader's full attention & keeps them reading. 
  • They can be poetic. The first line from Pepper Basham's The Thorn Keeper is one of my very fave first lines because it's so beautiful and wistful and a bit sad, too. Reading a first line like that - or the one from Beth Troy's Lu or quote #5 in the game list above - tells me I must keep reading to discover what other poetically beautiful gems are tucked inside this book!
  • But they don't have to be. Lines like the ones from The Cupcake Dilemma by Jennifer Rodewald or More Than We Remember by Christina Suzann Nelson (and even #4 from our guessing game) are more humorous and maybe a little bit snarky. That doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the book is written in that tone - though it might - but yet again it keeps me reading to find out. 

Like I said, I don't claim to be an author. I don't know all the technical craft speak to tell you why these twelve first lines are so captivating. All I can tell you as an avid reader is 1) they are captivating and 2) they all kept me reading. Your first line doesn't have to look like these; it should reflect your style and your story. But a great question to ask as you re-read during edits or at some other point in your writing process is: "Would I want to keep reading this book if this is all I had to go on?" No cover. No back cover copy. No author interview. Just that first line. Would it intrigue you enough to want to know 'the rest of the story'?

If so, you've found your own fabulous first line! Go forth & write, dear authors. I am cheering you on! 

What do you find the most difficult about writing a first line?
What is one of your fave first lines? (either your own or another author's)
What intrigued you most about it?


Carrie Schmidt is an avid reader, book reviewer, story addict, KissingBooks fan, book boyfriend collector, and cool aunt. She also loves Jesus and THE Story a whole lot. Co-founder of the Christian Fiction Readers' Retreat and JustRead Publicity Tours, LLC, Carrie lives in Kentucky with her husband Eric. 

She can be found lurking at various blogs and websites (because she can't stop talking about books) but her main home is the blog she started in 2015 -


  1. I love those first lines! And like you said, Peppers opening line for The Thornkeeper is thought-provoking... and I want to cheer the heroine on.

    I remember an agent's session at a conference years ago, and the agents agreed that sometimes all you get is a page....

    ONE PAGE...

    To capture their attention, to hook them enough to read on....

    So that first paragraph, first page, first line has to shine.

    I rewrite openings regularly. I mean like all the time... because being a pantser, the way I first begin a book is me getting to know the people/situation/setting/characters.

    And then I rewrite it the way I know it needs to be now that I have that info.

    Forge on, dear writers. Write, work, polish, and do it all again.

    Carrie, what a marvelous post!

    1. Hey, pretend there's an apostrophe in Pepper's name, okay?

    2. I love that strategy, dear Ruthy - rewriting the opening once you know what you didn't know when you started the book. Because then you can hook the reader for what YOU know is coming but THEY don't yet.

    3. My name is a vegetable. Apostrophes are optional :-)

    4. Pepper, I find it interesting that you claim the vegetable and not the spice. I mean.... have you READ your kissing scenes??? ;)

    5. Well, "peppers" as a spice doesn't quite work. I'd PREFER the spice, especially related to kissing :-) But, if we're going without apostrophes, I don't know if it would work

    6. well, okay. that makes sense. It's Ruthy's fault LOL

  2. ANSWERS to the guessing game:

    1. A Wrinkle in Time
    2. Pride & Prejudice
    3. Moby Dick
    4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
    5. Their Eyes Were Watching God
    6. Jane Eyre

  3. I love first lines, Carrie. we were having a discussion on FB last week about the historical novel A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack. It wasn't the first line so much as the opening paragraph that reminded me so much of the opening line of Gone With the Wind. I discovered I was able to quote it from memory even many decades after reading the book. "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton Twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the ..."

    When I think of first lines the other one that jumps to mind is “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”

    The opening line from my upcoming January release is "It was all the weatherman's fault." I hope it makes people want to read on.

    1. oh yes, Cate! Your January first line has my attention for sure! I'd keep reading :)

    2. PS - I love Josi Kilpack's books :)

  4. I totally got the guessing game!! Score! And C.S.Lewis's is one of my FAVS. It's perfect for the story!!! Thanks for including TTK, Carrie. I love Connie's LOL!

    1. that line from Dawn Treader is one of my very fave first lines, too (Yours from TTK being another). It just says so much in one sentence, doesn't it? lol

    2. yes! it sets up the story and 'feel' of the book SO WELL!!

  5. Ohhh what a great post today. I am not an author. But I read a lot. And when the first line or even the first chapter catches and hooks me, I want to continue and see where I am going to be taken on this marvelous journey. I am then eating up the book. Now to be fair there have been books that hook me like this and then as I get into the book it is a huge let down. I suppose I do this when I am quilting, if the fabric and the pattern draw me into it, I proceed with excitement. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    1. Yes, for sure, sometimes the book doesn't live up to its first line, unfortunately. Like Moby Dick. LOL.

      PS - I've always wanted to learn how to quilt!

  6. Hi Carrie:

    I enjoy great first lines but in reality I know that as far as creative genius goes, it is usually all downhill from then on. It's a little like having a surprise photo taken up close with a flash that was not needed. Everything else is kind of blurred and ordinary for some time after that.

    I'd trade the best of first lines for an initial state opening situation that totally hooks the reader and never lets her go.

    I perfer an inciting incident that is so full of potential, with so many possible twists and turns, that even a pantser can write three-fouths of the book and still have many possible outcomes to choose from. That's how to pantser! Make it almost impossible to paint yourself into a corner because of closed options.

    Speaking of pantsers, as I often do, I couldn't help but think, after reading the below quote:

    "There is a distinct difference between a heroine with a promised happy ending and a prodigal who must design her own."

    Yea, the prodigal has a pantser for an author!

    I do like the opening to, "The Bossy Bridegroom," by Mary Connealy, which creates an opening initial state which grabbed me and never let go for the entire book. I can still 'feel' the emotion after ten years!

    Opening, "The Bossy Bridegroom,"

    Jeanie Davidson believed in miracles because she believed God loved her.
    And only a miracle could make anyone love her.
    Exhausted after her long day, she slipped into her favorite faded blue jeans and her pink T-shirt with the buffalo on the front. The shirt made her fell close to her daughter.
    She curled up in a ball on her dilapidated couch and prayed to become a person worthy of self-respect.
    "Jeanie!" A fist slammed on her door.
    She jumped.
    "You get out here!"
    Her heart thudded. She knew that voice. It had been over two years, but she still reacted the same way --fear.

    This opening is just as powerful today, as well as each time I read it -- even after many years. If you liked Francine Rivers', "The Atonement Child", then I think you would really appreciate "The Bossy Bridegroom". Please note that both these books are what I would call "Romance Realism", which I really enjoy but not all readers of romance do.


  7. So many great first lines that draw you in from the get go. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Carrie, I will say that your First Line Fridays have started making me more aware of my first lines. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. But you got me thinking and that's never a bad thing.

  9. What an honor to on this list! Those are some amazing first lines. I did pretty well on the challenge, but I wasn't sure about two of them. Such a fun and informative post!

    1. I did put a couple of harder ones in there to keep things interesting ;-) lol

  10. Carrie, thanks so much for this! Not only was it fun to read (and try to guess the ones you gave), but it also reminded me that to really think about my own first lines! I love the idea of being a bit vague. On my first drafts I tend to just jump in to set the stage with the character name and what they're in the middle of. But it can be really cool to jump into their thoughts first. :)

    1. thanks, Missy! And sometimes jumping in with the character name & what they're in the middle of DOES keep us reading too. It all depends on the story and how that first line is framed :)

  11. Fun post, Carrie. And I completely agree with you on Moby Dick. I hated that book. I think the first line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous of first lines. In high school my best friend and I memorized it and we were always going around quoting it. I don't know why! But it was fun.

    1. it's STILL fun to quote that first line :-D And I'm so glad someone else agrees with me about Moby Dick lol

  12. Loved your first lines! A Wrinkle in Time is my very favorite book. And I've always loved C.S. Lewis and Jane Austen. I agree with you that Moby Dick does not live up to its first line.
    I think two first lines that I still love after reading them hundreds of times are "In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf" and "The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day."

    1. you can't go wrong with Carle or Seuss either :)

    2. Carrie, I love hearing from your reader perspective. You have valuable insights and experiences writers need to hear! Thank you for sharing...and do it boldly, sister. 💜 Everybody loves Carrie! 💜

  13. I adore the line about being voluntold. I voluntold my husband for things all the time!

  14. Happy Friday!

    What a fun and creative posts! I enjoy you on your other blog so its nice seeing you in multiple places! Busy girl!

    On my blog today my first line comes from Christmas in Bayberry by Jennifer Faye.
    "Big lazy snowflakes drifted toward the ground"

    Have a great weekend!

  15. My first line this week is from A BRIDE OF CONVENIENCE by Jody Hedlund:
    Vancouver Island January 12, 1863
    “I ain’t gonna make it, Zoe.”

  16. You absolutely rocked this post, my friend!

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