Tuesday, 20 April 2010

First Lines and Attention Spans

Sparked off by this great contest on the DGLM blog, I got to thinking about first lines of novels and our attention spans. Are we really so short of time and attention that if the first line doesn't grab us, we won't read the book? I don't know. I think that, when browsing books at a store, I do glance at the first page and see if the voice wins me over. But ninety per cent of the time, I buy a book because it sounds good, and I'll overlook a less-than-shining first page or line. 

And really, the very fact that I can't think of my favourite 'first lines' from books seems to suggest I don't pay much attention to them. I know the old classics, of course, like A Tale of Two Cities or Pride and Prejudice, but I wouldn't list these lines among my personal favourites.

As a writer, I think I'm fairly bad at first lines. So, in this post, I'm going to put down a few first lines I've just thought of. Intriguing ones, hopefully. I've already posted and tweeted the first one elsewhere, and it's what kicked this thought process off. But here you go. These are the first lines I'd like to start a novel with. Maybe one day.

I sat down to tea with Death, Desire and Rage.

I thanked goodness the week was over: it had started with killing my grandmother and had ended with a valet's broken nose. [This, incidentally, is a short version of the first paragraph of CLOCKWORK, which, by the way, I haven't yet written any more of yet.]

He left as abruptly as he'd arrived.

Oh, dear. 

I think I like the first one best. 

So, bombard me. What are your favourite first lines? If you write, do tell me about the first lines you've used. It's a fun thing to think about.


  1. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. "

    a personal fave. always makes me tingle. or something