The joy of a first line

Posted by Yvonne Barlow on Thursday, June 4, 2015
There is nothing like a first line to draw you into a book.

My favourite:
"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person." Haven't we all had that feeling? And don't we want to know more? This is from Anne Tyler's Back When We Were Grownups.

I also love Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The joy of a good first line is that it pulls you into story - a bad first line, however, makes you cover the page. Several times recently, I've come across first lines with so many numbers in them - not digits - but numerical references: dates, psychic life and age all in a single first sentence. It was too much and I hadn't received enough background to care.

And that's what a first line has to do - make us care! I cared to know about the woman who feared she'd become the wrong person in Anne Tyler's novel. I cared to know about the unhappy families in Anna Karenina.

The topic came up because Marie Claire is championing best opening lines. They range from Wolf Hall (great novel, not so great a first line - "So now get up.") to Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

Read the rest of Marie Claire's first lines right here.

Writers, research your first line - it draws the reader in and makes us care.


Tags: "first lines" "anna karenina" "anne tyler" "marie claire" 
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Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books - where book clubs and readers choose the novels that go to print.

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