Friday First Lines (volume 3)

I asked a few authors to comment on the first sentence of their book, and I got such a great response.   So good, in fact, that I’ve turned this into a little series here at Books on the Brain called Friday First Lines.  Each Friday I’ll share First Line thoughts by two or three authors.

Will these first sentences be enough to entice you to add them to your TBR list? They were for me!

The Clover HouseAuthor Henriette Laridis Power writes:

First sentence of THE CLOVER HOUSE:  

“On those rare occasions when she couldn’t control the world around her, my mother placed the blame squarely on America, the country she had reluctantly immigrated to from Greece in 1959.”
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We all do try to make the first sentence effective. I think, though, that it would be too daunting for most writers to set out with the goal of creating a first sentence as memorable as the opener of, say, Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina. At least I know I would feel too much pressure. The first sentence should draw the reader in, but it does, after all, have to fit in with the tone and style of the rest of the novel. Better to spend one’s writerly energy writing a good manuscript than to squander all the creativity in one place.
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A good first sentence can take so many forms. It can engage the reader’s curiosity. When you read “A screaming comes across the sky” in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, you don’t really know what’s going on, but you know you want to find out. Or a good first sentence can introduce the reader to a new way of expressing the world, as Joyce does with “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a razor and a mirror lay crossed.” Or it can establish an imbalance that sets the story in motion, as with Jane Austen’s famous opening sentence “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” All of these–curiosity, imbalance, newness–will suck the reader in.

I wrote a version of the first sentence for The Clover House when I began the manuscript, but the opening changed significantly at some point in the writing process. The sentence that stands now isn’t the one I began with. Even the original version I wrote came to me simply as part of the writing process. I didn’t treat that sentence any differently than the rest of the sentences in the novel. In revision, certainly, I was aware that the sentence had to earn its place at the beginning of the story.

Bungalow NightsAuthor Christie Ridgway writes:

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“Vance Smith had faced down Taliban bullets with more cool than he felt sitting on the beachside restaurant’s open-air deck.” –First line of BUNGALOW NIGHTS by Christie Ridgway, HQN Books
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First lines have a lot of work to do! You want to set up a question in the reader’s mind immediately. When and why had Vance encountered Taliban bullets? What’s disrupting his cool now, when he seems to be at some safe and sunny location? You want to entice the reader with that first sentence into reading the next, and then the next, and so on. It usually takes a couple of days of thinking for me to settle on the right opening scene, but once I have it, the first sentence usually presents itself quickly–but then must be edited and massaged until it feels just right.
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Sometimes, there are words before that first sentence designed to tell part of the story too. BUNGALOW NIGHTS features an opening quote by Ovid, “Every lover is a soldier,” that I think conveys that love can mean a battle to victory and always, always takes bravery.

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors D.E. Johnson (The Detroit Electric Scheme) and Peggy Hesketh (Telling the Bees).

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4 Responses

  1. I can’t say that the second book would appeal to me based on the cover, but both have excellent first lines!

  2. I have always thought that the first line of a book is the most important line, and both of these books have amazing first lines. I am glad to see this feature here today, and look forward to reading more first lines!

  3. Both of those first lines have great impact! First lines are like first impressions, and then some.

    Lisa, this is a terrific feature, especially for aspiring writers.

  4. Love this – both of these opening lines really seem to set the stories in motion. I’m always so interested in hearing how writer’s work their magic.

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