We've all heard don't judge a book by it's cover, though I'll admit I do that all the time. I've been known to pass on a book if I don't like it's cover. But that's not what I want to write about today. What about judging a book by it's first line? If the first line doesn't hook you or grab you by the eyeballs, do you put it down or continue reading? Personally, I keep going, but that first page has to pull me into the story. Here's a an example of a great first line that gives just enough information and tickles our curiousity bone (which is connected to the funny bone, of course).
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling)
Right away I'm thinking, who are these Dursleys and why are they so proud of being normal unless they were constantly worried about appearing not normal? And the 'thank you very much' indicates that they were a bit snooty about appearances in general.
At first glance it seems easy to come up with one line. But every word choice is important to convey tone, voice, mood. One little line could be the difference to whether someone picks up your book and buys it or whether he or she puts it down and moves on. Oh, the pressure! So far I haven't entered many online contests, since most require a finished ms, but I did submit my first line to a critique thread on literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog. In his forums there's a thread for rating and commenting on first lines. I typed my line in and nervously clicked 'post now.'
That was 3 days ago. I figure everyone was either blown away by the absolute genius of my word usage or else they couldn't find a polite way to say, "Write much?" Did I mention that the thread has been moving lower and lower down the blog roll, my name glaring off to the right as the last person who posted?
To comfort myself, I looked up some first lines from books I have around the house. See if you guess can guess where they come from.
Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved in the house. (Okay, that's a give away. But there's good stuff in that opening line. That door leads to a very creepy adventure.) Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
When I wake up the other side of the bed is cold.
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.
We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
Miri woke to the sleepy bleating of a goat.
Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.
(From the book I'm currently reading...)
The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised.
Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.
Once there were four children named Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.
What do you think? Did they grip you? Intrigue you? Did they set the tone? Would you want to read more or is there just not enough to tell? If you recognize some of these, feel free to put your answers in the comments. I'll post them on Friday along with the first line from Nitpicky.