FIRST IMPRESSIONS LAST
By Lindsay Galvin, author of THE SECRET DEEP
I have a bit of a thing for first lines. It started when I was preparing to submit my book and I discovered how many submissions agents receive. Some receive thousands per week. I realized my writing would be judged by an agent within minutes. By the first page. The first line mattered.
I began to investigate my most beloved books and recent books I’d read in my genre. I found in many books, first lines are pure poetry. And in some of my favourite books they become more resonant once you’ve read to the end.
I think you’re gathering I have a bit of a first line obsession. I even started a first line notebook.
So what makes a great first line? It’s subjective of course. But my favorites convey one element of the story to come, very strongly. Could be voice, setting, atmosphere, tension, character or a combination. The line could raise such a huge question you have to read on. I love it when one line can set the tone. I also really admire economy and visuals in writing.
So here a handful of my favourites and the reasons why I love them. Depending on the style of the book I am including more than one line.
First the colours.
Then the humans.
That’s usually how I see things.
Or at least how I try.
The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
I adore this. Suggestion the narrator isn’t human. Conversational tone. You know this will be a narrator with a distinctive almost humble storytelling voice.
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
So many questions are raised here – so simply. As stark as the book will become.
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.
The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness
The voice grabs immediately, both distinctive and funny. And again that question raised. This person’s dog is talking and I need to know why!
The King stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
This is poetry to me. It’s the word unmoored that really gets me. I’d argue that how different people react to being unmoored is a major theme in this stunning book.
I’m reading fan-fiction in my pyjamas when I hear a nightmarish sound: the emergency alarm.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe – Lauren James
I’ve cheated a bit on this one, as there is a prologue article before we are introduced to Romy. But as the first line in a character’s voice this is brilliant. We know specifics about this character, and there’s tension already. Nightmarish is the strong word in this sentence and the word for this whole book, and I love it.
I could go on. There are so many fantastic book openings out there.
When it came to write my own first line I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wrote an opening that I hope conveys my main characters confusion and when readers get to the end they can look back (if they were a first line geek like me) and read it on a few different levels.
What are your favourite first lines, and why do you love them?
THE SECRET DEEP is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
When Aster wakes alone on a tropical island, she has no idea what has happened, why she is there, or where to find her younger sister, Poppy. Meanwhile Sam, who once met the sisters on a plane, makes links between the mystery of their disappearance and suspicious happenings in his own life. In a stunning dual narrative, the truth unravels with devastating effect – and the answer lies in the secret underwater world surrounding the desert island, populated by the beautiful and the impossible …
Connect with Lindsay on Twitter: @lindsaygalvin
Find out more at lindsaygalvin.com and chickenhousebooks.com