Wednesday, May 29, 2013

First Impressions

With all the movie remakes from Star Trek to The Great Gatsby, I often fondly wish to revisit the original – and am usually astounded at how slow the movie starts out and how long it takes to draw the viewer in. And remember those yummy bodice rippers from the early 80s? Rambling, historical tomes where the hero and heroine might not meet until chapter six?

I’m not sure when the story structure changed. Perhaps when the Internet age brought in immediate gratification. Now, authors are told that if their story doesn’t grab the reader (or editor) within the first six pages, the story won’t sell. I take that a step further. To me, the opening sentence of the story must be riveting enough to encourage the reader to continue.

Some of my favorite first lines from classics:

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. ~ Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. – Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. ~ Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Part of choosing a first line that makes a strong impact is deciding where the story starts. And while those eighties romances somehow got away with fifty page preludes to the action, today’s readers demand to be dropped into the action immediately.

Here are some first lines from my books:

loverforransom_msrEven though violet twilight blanketed the gently undulating hills of Middle Tennessee, Cathleen Ryan squinted behind her black-lensed glasses.  ~ Lover for Ransom

I killed my best friend. ~ Eternal

“Stand and deliver!” ~ Badcock

“I’d be obliged if ye’d fetch the modiste,” Laird of Lockerbie, Blane McLaren, said impatiently asslavetofashion_msr he made rather a commotion of pretending to be dissatisfied with his service. ~ Slave to Fashion

“Oh my dear, he isn’t received,” Lady Martha Ashcroft whispered under her breath to Lady Emily Blevins. ~ Bad Kitty

What are some of your favorite first lines? And what beginnings have hooked you for the rest of the book?

About Debra Glass

IMG_0261DEBRA GLASS is the author of over thirty-five books of historical and paranormal romance, non-fiction, young adult romance, and folklore. She holds an MAed with emphasis in history from the University of North Alabama.

She lives in Alabama with her real life hero, a couple of smart-aleck ghosts, and a diabolical black cat.

Visit her website at


Carla Swafford said...

You're so right that the beginning of books have changed a lot. At one time it was of the utmost importance to describe the setting. Maybe I had more patience then, but now days there are so many more books to read and I want in the action from the get go.

Favorite first line that's not my own is Susan Elizabeth Phillips's IT HAD TO BE YOU. "Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father's funeral."

Now who can stop reading after that?

Debra Glass said...

That's a great one, Carla. We've definitely gone beyond It was a dark and stormy night.

Meda White said...

I picked a random selection of books from my book shelf and these are good ones:

"I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar." ~Dead Until Dark~ Charlaine Harris

"All wars end in defeat." (Prologue) and "Almost dying served as a heck of a reminder to take care of unfinished business." (Chapter 1) ~A Tale of Two Djinns~ Mina Khan

"Never tick off a starving vampire." ~Redemption~ Susannah Sandlin

My random sampling had two vampire books. All were paranormal and I write contemporary. Interesting.

Alicia Hunter Pace said...

You are right. Somewhere along the way we became unwilling to give a book a chance to pick up. I don't know if it's good or bad but it has made for some great first lines. I love yours.

One of my favorites is from "Natural Born Charmer" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

"It's not every day a guy sees a headless beaver marching down the side of the road, not even in Dean Robillard's larger-than-life world."

As for my own--the first line I am most proud of is from the book I just turned in, "Simple Gone South".

"Getting hit in the head with a taco will make a man rethink a relationship."

Carla Swafford said...

I know what you mean, Meda. I don't write romantic comedy, but read it all the time. Only occasionally do I read RS.

Carla Swafford said...

You know, Alicia (Stephanie?), I really need to read your book. :-)

(Not that I'm Debra in replying here, but love this subject.)

Debra, you did good!

Lexi said...

Debra, you are so right! First lines are so important, and darn hard to write! Great post.