I’ve looked at first lines a couple times in the past, here and here. Below are some others from books on my shelves…
The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson.
This new world weighs a yatto-gram. But everything is trial-size; tread-on-me tiny or blurred-out-of-focus huge.
I like this opening because it evokes senses, but not quite images. That makes me want to read further. After looking through my notes and finding this blurb, though, I realize I’ve been unconsciously copying the hyphenated phrase style she uses here. I am a big fan of Jeanette Winterson, so it doesn’t surprise me a ton. What I like about this approach is that it alters the pace of the sentence itself. Often, writers talk about pace in the context of a whole work, zooming into a scene and providing lots of detail and dialogue, slowing down the pace versus summarizing larger chunks of time passing with narrative. I thought it was worth looking at pace within a sentence based on the use of language and punctuation itself, though. The other thing I like about this style is that it’s a way of creating a new word when the right word doesn’t quite exist.
The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy.
My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.
I think these two lines work because they immediately introduce paradox. When I think anchorage, I think home. Comfort, familiarity. When I think wound, pain and discomfort come immediately to mind. I think this is a great introduction that at the very least, explains to the reader that place will be important, and the narrator’s association to that place will be complicated.
From My Father’s House, by Sylvia Fraser.
My father’s house was a three-story, frame building on a shady street in Hamilton, Ontario
I don’t like this first line that much. It gives a bit of information, but it doesn’t hook me, beg me to read more. Having read the book, I can say it is very well written, and a worthwhile read, and with the benefit of retrospect, the important element of this first line may be in its references to a large house – that can evoke a spooky feeling, especially from the perspective of a child. The use of the word shady introduces a dark element, too. When I read this the first time, though, those things didn’t mean anything to me yet. To me, this is an example of how a great book can live without a great hook, though.
Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides.
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
This opening line tells the reader exactly what the story will be about, and the subject itself is unusual and promises to be intense. References to place and time help set the stage for the inherent struggle the narrator will have in dealing with gender identity. Most of the language is straightforward, unadorned, though the first four words imply the significance of the subject matter. I like the combination of the gravity of the first phrase, and the almost boring everyday description of the remainder of the line.
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen.
Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook.
“Only three people were left,” – this part of the sentence implies that we’re joining the narrator at some later point in the story – I expect to hear what led up to there being only three people left. The terms “grease joint,” and “fry cook,” both make me think of lower class characters – people that don’t have much money. The line isn’t earth-shattering, but it sets the stage a little bit, and the opening words make me want to read more.