First lines—those elusive, shifty, uncooperative first lines!
First lines set the tone of the book, establish expectations in the minds of the readers and, I find, stimulate me to follow my own lead. It is sometimes easier to writer the whole chapter with grace and intelligent unfolding of character and plot, and be stymied by the first line. It is intimidating, because it is important.
It isn’t as if there was a rule about ‘how to write a first line’ Successful authors have used vastly diverse first lines.
It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.
The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling
My heart was pounding like crazy and my stomach was so tight it ached under my ribs. I felt great.
Here She Is, Ms. Teeny Wonderful, Martyn Godfrey
Trouble is our family is spelled with a capital C and has been as long as I can remember. The C stands for Charles.
Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson, Judy Blume
The journey took place in a part of Canada which lies in the northwestern part of the great sprawling province of Ontario.
The Incredible Journey, Sheila Burnford
It was a glorious time, even for a very asthmatic boy.
Baseball Bats for Christmas, Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak and Vladyana Krykorka
A school librarian told me once that a writer of children’s literature has four pages in which to engage the reader. I suspect that it might be even less, that we must entice the reader with the first page and perhaps, and here is where it gets intimidating, with the first line. Sometimes, I use a series of short sentences to grab attention.
While I favor short, dramatic introductions, I don’t always use them, and, certainly, some famous writers have long modest, almost dull beginnings. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables begins with a 148-word sentence describing Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s view of the road and the countryside.
The only rigid rule about the beginning of your story is this: engage your reader. Entice the reader to read further.
Here are some of my own first sentences.
Gillian stood perfectly still. Riding Scared.
My number hadn’t even been called and I was already sweating. Cutting it Close.
Carol couldn’t have phoned her invitation at a better time. Island Feud.
Imagine human life as a giant tapestry. The Face in the Mirror: Teenagers and Adoption
Who can write for children and young adults? Anyone can, but to write well, you need special skills. Writing for Children and Young Adults.
The purpose behind the first line is to get the reader to go on to read the second and then the paragraph and then the book. Good luck.