Friday, March 27, 2009

First Lines in Fiction

"When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen." ~First line in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I'm reading The Secret Garden to my 8-year-old daughter, Christa. That's a photo of her trying to look disagreeable, like Mary Lennox. Pretty good job, eh?

Before I began reading, I told Christa to pay attention to the opening sentence in the book.

"The first sentence in a book is so important," I said. "Writers need to grab readers' attention right away!"

"Yeah, I know," Christa agreed. "Imagine if a book starts out like this: The mouse is eating some cheese. Chew. Chew. Chew. I'm not reading that book." She proceeded to chomp on some imaginary cheddar.

I had to agree with her. Pretty boring stuff, that.

Writers are told again and again they need to hook their readers from the get-go. It shouldn't be a difficult concept to grasp--even my second-grader caught on to the idea.

Wondering how other authors handled the first line challenge? Check out First Lines. The first lines of books are divided into categories. Your challenge is to name the book given the first line. Maybe perusing other writers' efforts will help you polish the first line of your work in progress.


Vince said...

Hi Beth:

I think what is so interesting with the first lines of the classic works is that almost all of them would not get past an editor today.

What do you think?

On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its passage with an impetuous embrace.

The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot

My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

The day broke gray and dull

Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham


Jean said...

I LOVE that book. Christa is doing a pretty good job of looking disagreeable, I agree.

Thanks for dropping in.

If it is okay with you I'll add your sites to the Writer's List on my blog.

Jean Hall

Jean said...


That note was menat for Scotti.


Beth K. Vogt said...

I would agree with you. What worked decades ago wouldn't fly with an editor now. There was much more narrative in fiction way-back-when.
It would be interesting to look at some of the first lines in bestsellers in the past decade. Looks like I've got an assignment for an upcoming blog.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Scoti and and Roxanne and I are writing teammantes, so we'll make sure we get messages back and forth to the appropriate person, Jean!