More on first lines — an author share hers

More on first lines — an author share hers

by Brenda Whiteside

The first few lines of a novel may be the most important in a book, though Reading in a hammockthat isn’t necessarily the case for a reader. It’s highly unlikely you would throw away a book you’d paid for or delete it from your eReader if the first paragraph doesn’t totally knock your socks off.

But for an author, the first sentence or two can make or break your book. I might be overstating this slightly, but if an author can’t rope in an editor that quickly, her book may never make it to print. Editors are busy people with hundreds of manuscripts to read. An author must quickly convince them that their time won’t be wasted by investing an hour in reading further.

As an experiment, I pulled some of my favorite books from the shelf. I tested the rule to see how impressive these published, successful authors did with their first couple of lines.

“It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.”
— Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

“The kitchen was full of the smells of baking. Benny put down her school bag and went on a tour of inspection.”
— Maeve Binchy, Circle of Friends

“On the morning of August 8, 1965, Robert Kincaid locked the door to his small two-room apartment on the third floor of a rambling house in Bellingham, Washington.”
— Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

“Reece Gilmore smoked through the tough knuckles of Angel’s Fist
in an overheating Chevy Cavalier.”
— Nora Roberts, Angels Fall

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged,
he was seldom self-conscious about his injury.”
— Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Hmmm…A couple might pass the test, but all in all, it’s going to take at least the first page to hook me. More than likely, an editor will give you that much – that is if the synopsis doesn’t kill your chances. A couple of these do rope me in after the first page, but a couple of others took even more reading to make me want to turn the next page.

In the end, I’ll keep doing as they say and not as they do. Trying to hook a reader on the first page is a good model to follow.

I’ll end with the first lines of a few of my stories.

“I woke before Wesley that morning, the first morning waking up next to him. I silently yawned, stretching my feet against the cowboy sheets tucked tight at the foot of his bed.”


“The throb behind Abigail’s eyes scraped at her temples like chiseled fingernails. She squeezed her lids tight. Was the sheet twisted around her?”


“The cheap chenille could have been angel hair as I smoothed the spread over the bed, my mood sunnier than the faded yellow walls of the room. For most of my life, I’d never had my own room.”


“Phoebe awakened sudden and breathless. Not slow like when the sheet tangled around her legs or when she needed a trip to the toilet in the gray fog of near-sleep. What noise had she heard that now wasn’t there?”


“Lacy quickened her pace. The footsteps behind her did the same. As fast as her feet touched the bricks, her heart beat twice that speed. If only she could clear the narrow alley, step onto the lit sidewalk…” 

When I separate them away from the rest of the text, it’s easy to see which have “oomph” and which do not.


Brenda spends most of her time writing stories of discovery and love. The rest of her time Brenda Whitesideis spent tending vegetables on the small family farm she shares with her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. Visit Brenda at or on Facebook. Tweet with her, too! Brenda blogs the 9th and 24th of every month at, and she blogs about writing and prairie life at

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10 Responses to More on first lines — an author share hers

  1. JoAnne Myers says:

    Nice article Brenda. I am sure it helps many. Good luck with your writings.


  2. Sandra Dailey says:

    I always end up rewriting the first line and sometimes paragraph before submitting a story. I think the hook has to come in immediately.
    One of my granddaughters tells me she usually buys books that begin with dialogue. To each their own I guess.


  3. Ashantay Peters says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and first lines. I admit I often get pulled in by first lines, or the first paragraph – sometimes the same thing.


  4. Sarah McNeal says:

    Very good article, Brenda. I’ve often heard it said that first lines should be action or dialogue. Whatever the case, I agree on the importance of that first line. A very good reminder. All the best to you.


  5. janninegallant says:

    You know, I bet most books wouldn’t pass the 1st line test. I’m more inclined to think the 1st page is a better barometer. I can’t honestly see an editor reading one line and tossing a book. But one page…as a reader I’ve been known to toss after a page.(Standing in the bookstore or library trying to decide if I want to read it or not.) By then you should have a feel for the author’s voice and know if you like it or not. Great post to get us thinking about making that all important beginning better!


  6. This is really interesting, it’s certainly something to think about it, I always like to start with dialogue but you’ve given some great examples of other ways that are really effective.


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