First Line Critique

Last week, when I posted about first lines, you all started doing something wonderful: you posted your own and asked for feedback from other readers. You didn’t just do it here…people were critiquing opening lines on my Facebook page, too!

So before we move on to successful first lines from the published shelves, I thought I’d give you all an opportunity to critique and get critiqued by other writers based on your first line. Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Read and comment on three (3) first lines in the comments (this obviously doesn’t apply to the first handful of people to leave theirs).
  2. Post your own first line and tell us if it’s a picture book, MG, YA, whatever.
  3. When you’re responding to the first lines of others, make sure they know that you’re talking to them. I usually put their name and some dashes. Unfortunately, these comments aren’t threaded to do replies, so it will be a bit of a mess.
  4. Check back and scroll through comments to see if anyone has commented on your work.
  5. I will pop in occasionally and pick out a few to critique. The first line with the most comments about it will get a first page (250 word) critique from me!

I love it when my readers tell me what they need, when they just jump in and start a conversation.

ETA: I will be by the site a few times today to approve comments. If you haven’t commented before, your comment will be held for moderation. I’ll release them when I can. But don’t worry — your comment was received, it’s just waiting on me. No need to comment again.

202 Replies to “First Line Critique”

  1. It looks like I’m one of the first, so here goes…

    This is the first line from my YA story: There is something about his eyes.

    Thanks to all who comment and offer feedback!

  2. Oh, wow, what a great idea, Ms. Kole!

    First lines are important to me. However, I’m afraid my first line just doesn’t cut it. Everyone, please be extremely critical!

    Genre: YA contemporary.

    First line: I spot the homeless girl curled in the bed of my abandoned home.

  3. Great post! I guess I will start things off. My novel is YA and this is my first line.

    The water crashed up against my skull like the crashing waves up against a rocky shore.

    There you go.

  4. June,

    Is your YA story romance?

    Here is your first line: There is something about his eyes.

    There is one thing I like about this sentence–it’s short. It gets the story rolling quickly.

    However, I think it would be better if you start the story off with _without_ about the character’s eyes. Maybe it’s just me, but I cringe every time a writer mentions the color of a character’s eyes. Is there any way you could start the story without talking about this man’s eyes?

    –M.W.

  5. This is from my YA Fantasy WIP.

    A strand of my white-blond hair lies across the stainless steel window sill as I hurry to anchor it again with my thumb.

  6. I’m jumping right in! Here’s the first line from my MG novel…

    “Given the choice, Raven Academy for Boys was quite likely the last place Connor Price would have chosen to spend his eighth grade year. ”

    I’m looking forward to reading and responding to more!

  7. What fun!

    My first line: I never got the Bloodlust.

    June – Your first line is intriguing, but I wonder if the “something” couldn’t be more specific? Like, if his eyes were an odd color or shape, etc… It makes me curious, but it’s also a little vague. It’s so hard to critique a first line when you can’t see the rest of the first page. I’m sure I would read on after this first line 🙂

  8. June- I would describe his eyes. Also, who is “he”? A person? Animal?
    What is the “something” that is so intriguing? As an aside, I think eye imagery is overdone to the point of cliche. Just my opinion.

    Crystal- What is “Bloodlust?” I guess this makes me want to read more to find out! Not sure about opening with “I”.

    My first line: The day Miss K asked me to play a violin solo- in front of the entire Benjamin Harrison Middle School Orchestra- my head swelled like a puffer fish.

  9. Okay, I’ll play. Here’s mine…

    The string attached to her pinkie tugged as the door handle jiggled, but she was already awake.

    I’ll wait to comment on others until there at least three.

  10. Well, this could be entertaining! 🙂

    First line (YA speculative fiction): Seven pressed back against the cold, uneven stones of the cell wall and listened to the rhythmic strikes of Five’s knife across the window bars.

    June – I find myself thinking this line is for a romance…primarily because of the nebulous “something” mentioned, which seems like it might be more of a feeling on the part of the narrator, maybe a romantic feeling for the person whose eyes are mentioned.

    Crystal – Your first line is very specific and gave me a sense of an outsider narrator and a paranormal/supernatural element. 🙂

  11. Forgot to say that my manuscript is MG!

    Jesse- I’m wondering if the whole “worst day of my life” scenerio isn’t overdone. Be specific. What happened that was so horrible?

  12. This is the first line of my middle grade mystery.

    “I’ve never seen anything dead before–at least nothing big–until now.”

    I’ll make comments on others when there are more posts. Thanks for the forum to get feedback Mary.

    Best,
    Life of Lois

  13. Jesse: I’d say while this is intriguing, it doesn’t pass the Mary Kole test — couldn’t this be the first line of many novels? How does it speak distinctly to yours? Set character, scene, time or place, theme, etc? Perhaps it’s too general?

    Crystal: I like this one. It sets out a problem (although we don’t know quite whether your MC wants the bloodlust or not.) We know this is a first person narrative. And we’re guessing its paranormal. Good job.

    June: I’m semi intrigued here. I think maybe starting your first sentence with the rather weak subject “there is” might call for some revision. Unlike Crystal’s line, this doesn’t tell us much about where we are, who your MC is, or what sort of novel this might be (possibly romance, but maybe that’s too obvious). It does raise a question, though — so I’d keep reading. : )

    OK, here is mine:

    For the fifth day in a row, the sky opened up and poured down robins and sparrows.

    Thanks in advance for your feedback!

  14. Here’s mine, it’s from my YA novel:

    “On the night that Gabriel Durante harvested his one hundredth soul, he bought himself a pack of cigarettes and a drink.”

    June–I agree with Crystal that your first line could be more specific. Although it IS attention-grabbing and would have me continue reading, it looks like it could belong in any other YA novel.

    Crystal–Ooh, Bloodlust. That reminds me of…vampires? I’m not sure from reading just the first line, but it sure got my attention. I’d be willing to read on to see what you’re talking about.

    Jesse–I’m not as well-informed in MG as I am in YA, but it does seem like your first line could belong in any other MG book. But then again, it DOES grab the reader’s attention.

  15. Jesse,

    Your first line: The worst day of my life started like any other: horrible.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is a strong first line. It’s “telling,” and it’s a bit cliche.

    As a rule of thumb, start where the action starts. Start the MC’s day with something horrible happening, instead of just telling so.

  16. Forgot to say mine is YA!

    Sylvia- “When Misha started seeing holes in people, she told her mother.”
    Love this. Makes me think the next line will be about Misha seeing something even weirder.

    Gail- “For the fifth day in a row, the sky opened up and poured down robins and sparrows.” You didn’t post it, but I get the impression your writing either a PB of MG. If so, great job on sparking imagination.

    June- “There is something about his eyes.” I’d have to agree with the previous comments that this is a little vague, although kudos for brevity. Big fan of it.

    Crystal-“I never got the Bloodlust.” First, wondering why Bloodlust is capitalized. Second, the jacket blurb would clue me in on whether this is a sci-fi/fantasy or contemporary so I guess it doesn’t matter, but just seeing the line makes me wonder if Bloodlust refers to a vampire or other crazy creature or someone out for revenge.

    Lois-“I’ve never seen anything dead before–at least nothing big–until now.” Really sets a tone!

  17. Silvia – I really like this line. It makes me wonder “are these literal holes or is she seeing something else?”

    Jesse – This seems kinda vague. I think it’s the word choice “any other.” Those words don’t really grab me by the throat and make me pay attention. Also, I think even saying that the day was horrible is also vague. It’s really telling when I think that you need to put your best foot forward. Just as an example, you could start by referring to or showing an incident which made the day so horrible. OR if every day is horrible for the same reason, perhaps thats where you’d want to lead off.

    Lois D. Brown – I’ve read by several agents that leading off with dialogue isn’t the strongest way to open. I think in the past year or so, I’ve started to really see their point. When it’s done this way, we start with no grounding. I’m wondering if this even has to be dialogue though. There’s no real way to know, because I only have one line to judge. But I’m wondering if it could be said in narration. If it’s not in 1st person, you could then give the grounding of your MC’s name instead of “I”.

    The first line for my MG novel:

    Among the torn wrapping paper and ribbons, Suzy lifted the lid off the box to greet her destiny.

  18. The MC of my YA contemporary is a girl, and the homeless girl is a teen–around eighteen. Should I mention in the first line that the homeless girl is a teen?

  19. Crystal–I sure want to know what Bloodlust is. It sounds like something that happens with some regularity, so I’d keep reading to see if I’m right. It sounds like the character doesn’t understand the point of the Bloodlust, so again, I’d keep reading to find out what’s going on. Nice.

    Stephanie–That first line certainly sounds like a MG voice. It denotes embarrassment which kids that age try to avoid at all costs, so it looks like it’s a good start.

    Jesse–That line stikes me as somewhat contradictory. If it’s the worse day of her life, yet it’s starting like any other, you lose some of the impact and punch. I know what you’re trying to do, but you may want to consider how you can make that sensibility of “awfulness” resonate more.

    Gail–Is this a paranormal? That question alone has me wondering and yep, I’d keep reading to see if this is weirdness going on or just seems like it.

  20. My novel is YA and here is my firsty line.

    The water crashed up against my skull like the crashing waves against the rocky shore.

  21. What a great opportunity! Thanks, Mary.

    June – This sounds to me like a second or third line. It seems like there should be a sentence stating something about who “he” is.

    Jesse – I agree with the others that this first line is a bit overdone. Could you be more specific? Something (from you ms) like, “When my juice spilled and soaked my burnt toast, I knew my day wouldn’t get any better.”

    caroline – Love it! Just enough description to paint the scene for me and left me wanting to read on.

    Lois – I’m intrigued but it left me with the question, “Has s/he seen something dead or not?”

    Okay, here’s mine. It’s upper MG:

    Girls named Felicity should not be allowed to play tag football with boys.

  22. @Susie F – I like this line. It immediately sets up a girls vs. boys issue and presumably introduces us to your MC. I’d keep reading.

    @Derrick – I’m mildly intrigued but not completely hooked yet. It does make me wonder what’s in the box that will help her find her destiny. I could see this going in a lot of different directions.

    @Carolyn – I’m totally hooked! I’m immediately drawn into some sort of dangerous situation I’m presuming. Nice job!

    Here’s the first line of my Romantic Suspense:

    The day Maya buried Eli was a miserable one.

  23. Thanks Mary, this was a great idea.

    Derrick – I really liked the first line of your novel: “Among the torn wrapping paper and ribbons, Suzy lifted the lid off the box to greet her destiny.” I think this creates a clear picture, especially the first part. But for me -and this could just be me- the last part of the line “to greet her destiny” feels a little forced. I feel as if the word destiny is used quite a bit on the back of books and I would suggest maybe choosing a different word.

    Suzie F. – I think your first line is very fun “Girls named Felicity should not be allowed to play tag football with boys.” I love the name Felicity and I feel that your opener isn’t a line that could be the start to just any book. You definitely give off a MG feel. I would read more.

    Silvia – I think you have a very strong first line -“When Misha started seeing holes in people, she told her mother.” I don’t have any critique for this. I like this line because right away I get a sense of intrigue and mystery.

    Heres mine. It’s for YA:

    People used to smile at me a lot more than they do now.

  24. I’m new at critiquing just first lines, so…that’s my disclaimer.

    Silvia – I’m hooked on yours. Seeing holes in people? Not something I’ve read before. Also, I love that she tells her mother first. I’d definitely keep reading to find out where this is going. What kind of holes? Just blackness, or can she see through them, like to the wall behind them?

    Stefanie – The image of the puffer fish is strong. The voice here jumps out at me. I do gloss over the details of the school name & teacher name, and I’m wondering if these can/should be left out.

    Derrick – The specific details of wrapping paper & ribbons are strong, and you could get more detailed if you want (birthday wrapping paper? Hannukuh? Christmas? Something else?). I’m concerned with the phrase “greet her destiny,” which is a cliche. It could definitely work anyway, and this is where I’m new at first lines – I’m used to critiquing at least a page at a time.

    Here’s mine – it’s YA fantasy:

    The boy would be dead before the waning crescent.

  25. You’re amazing for doing this, Mary. It’s a good learning exercise for us, too. 😀
    —–

    –Stefanie–
    Being a scared-as-sh*t-to-play-in-public violinist myself, I really connected with your first line.
    I think you can do without the aside, though. The sentence feels like it has more impact without it.
    —–

    –Silvia–
    Seeing holes in people? Win.
    I don’t think the second half of your sentence does the first half very much justice though. So she told her mother… that has no weight to it. Just my opinion, but I prefer something with a little more kick, especially following an observation like “holy crap I can see holes in people!”
    —–

    –Gail–
    I wouldn’t change a thing. Love.
    —–

    –Suzie–
    Yours made me smile. It comes across snarky but not *too* snarky. I’d read on to see what happens.
    —–

    –Stephanie–
    Yours just killed me a little. So sad. I would definitely read on to see why/how this came about.
    —–

    Okay, here’s mine. Contemp YA (1995):

    As I slip out the front screen door and light my first cigarette of the night, Mom gives me a clear, silent signal with her eyes that she does not not *not at all* approve of my outfit, even though it’s the same thing I wear every frigging day.

  26. What a wonderful opportunity! Thanks for opening up your comments for this. 🙂 I am really enjoying reading everyone’s first lines and commentary!

    @ Gail – For your first line, “For the fifth day in a row, the sky opened up and poured down robins and sparrows,” I absolutely loved the imagery in it – very vivid. Most importantly, I felt like it set a tone (your story would be somewhat magical) and it made me want to read on. Why had these birds been falling down for five days? I wanted to find out! 🙂

    @Caroline – Your first line, “The string attached to her pinkie tugged as the door handle jiggled, but she was already awake,” really intrigued me! It was very loaded as well – I wanted to know why this girl was so concerned about her door opening that she would attach a string to it. We have already found out that maybe she is anxious about the door opening – she was already awake – maybe some kind of danger awaited her. I would absolutely read on.

    @E. Newmeyer – Ooh- romantic suspense! Sounds like an exciting genre! For your first line, “The day Maya buried Eli was a miserable one,” I liked it and would read on, especially because you have classified it as romantic suspense, but I wonder if your first line would be stronger if you juxtaposed two things that wouldn’t necessarily go together. I am assuming Eli had died (or this would be a whole different kind of story I guess!). Typically, I would think if you are burying anything (a person, a pet) that has died, the day would be pretty miserable so it is almost assumed.

    Here is mine for my MG adventure novel:

    I’m sure you’re reading this because you’ve heard the rumors – the ones about a boy, a girl in crazy knee-high socks, a junk-food-loving cat, and the living dead.

  27. What a wonderful opportunity! Thanks for opening up your comments for this. 🙂 I am really enjoying reading everyone’s first lines and commentary!

    @ Gail – For your first line, “For the fifth day in a row, the sky opened up and poured down robins and sparrows,” I absolutely loved the imagery in it – very vivid. Most importantly, I felt like it set a tone (your story would be somewhat magical) and it made me want to read on. Why had these birds been falling down for five days? I wanted to find out! 🙂

    @Caroline – Your first line, “The string attached to her pinkie tugged as the door handle jiggled, but she was already awake,” really intrigued me! It was very loaded as well – I wanted to know why this girl was so concerned about her door opening that she would attach a string to it. We have already found out that maybe she is anxious about the door opening – she was already awake – maybe some kind of danger awaited her. I would absolutely read on.

    @E. Newmeyer – Ooh- romantic suspense! Sounds like an exciting genre! For your first line, “The day Maya buried Eli was a miserable one,” I liked it and would read on, especially because you have classified it as romantic suspense, but I wonder if your first line would be stronger if you juxtaposed two things that wouldn’t necessarily go together. I am assuming Eli had died (or this would be a whole different kind of story I guess!). Typically, I would think if you are burying anything (a person, a pet) that has died, the day would be pretty miserable so it is almost assumed.

    Here is mine for my MG adventure novel:

    I’m sure you’re reading this because you’ve heard the rumors – the ones about a boy, a girl in crazy knee-high socks, a junk-food-loving cat, and the living dead.

  28. Thanks mary, for this opportunity to get feedback.

    Beth Hull — I like the mysterious tone to your opening. Not giving the boy a name seems ominous, as does the description of the moon as the “waning crescent”. I certainly would like to see line 2.

    Stephanie Garber — This simple line piques my interest right away. Why have people stopped smiling at the narrator? What has he/she done?

    Gail — I absolutely loved your first line! What world IS this? And a nice play on “raining cats and dogs”.

    Derrick — Nice anticipation with the wrapping paper details before the lid is raised, but I “greet her destiny” seemed both too strong and too vague. I’d rather see her emotional reaction to what was in that box.

    Okay, here’s mine — for my MG mystery — I’ll appreciate any feedback, thanks.

    Imogene Walters leaned against the parlor doorjamb, listening.

  29. Great idea! Thanks Mary.

    Gail: “For the fifth day in a row, the sky opened up and poured down robins and sparrows.” I’m intrigued by this. This one line has raised so many questions for me. I want to know more.

    Beth: “The boy would be dead before the waning crescent.” I love fantasy and this line pulls me in immediately. I’m curious as to who the narrator is. Is the boy who will be dead the MC? Why will he be dead? All good questions.

    Stephanie : “People used to smile at me a lot more than they do now.” I think this is interesting, but also a bit generic perhaps. I, of course, want to know why people are not smiling at her/him, but I’m not getting a feel for who the MC is or what the book will be about. I know that’s a tall order for a first line. I would read on to find out more.

    Silvia — I’m intrigued. Holes in people? Interesting.

    Okay, here’s mine from my MG:

    A high-pitched wail rises in the night, making goosebumps rise on my arms.

  30. Elizabeth: Definitely sets up your story, as I’m already wanting to know what she was listening to. Could be a bit generic, though.

    Lydia: You definitely establish a personality: she’s a risk-taker, irreverent, etc. However, the overuse of negatives is a bit confusing.

    Beth: I love this. Suspense, death, sensory details–all of this piques my attention completely.

    Here’s mine: for a MG fantasy:

    I have never known my father’s name.

  31. Lydia – (As I slip…) your opener doesn’t tell us what kind of story you’re telling (aside from YA, given the smoking and the word “frigging”), but it starts us off on a _relationship_ . Even if Mom is only a side character in the story, her reaction and her history of reactions reflect the narrator strongly, and reflect the world she’s in, i.e. smoking’s not the problem, clothing is. Love it.

    Stephanie – (People used to smile…) This isn’t as defined or concrete as Lydia’s, but it sets up the mystery that I think many of are trying to achieve with our opening lines. It’s promisingly vague. The relationships again reflect on the narrator – she is either the cause or the victim of something unfortunate. It hints at a character-driven more than at a plot-driven story.

    Suzie (Girls named Felicity…) Great. Felicity could be our protagonist or antagonist (if the MC is a boy and she’s his nemesis). She’s clearly a problem on the field (because touching girls at that age is problematic for so many reasons; because she’s playing a boys’ sport; she throws young boys’ early struggles with masculinity into even more question). Very evocative and very open-ended.

    My novel is YA and begins with a story-within-a-story.

    Once upon a time, there was a young princess in the Kingdom of Cleveland.

  32. Lydia – This has great voice, but the sentence seems a bit overloaded with information. She’s slipping out the door, lighting a cigarette, enduring her mother’s disapproval, and noting her typical wardrobe all at the same time. I would make it shorter, give it more punch in fewer words. I would also cut the slang from the first sentence, also, though that just may be preference. {As a reader, I’d then be expecting a book overloaded with slang, which I find annoying.} But this has great voice – I’m curious about what she’s wearing and have a feeling that her relationship with her mother is a theme of the book. {Would I keep reading? Probably not, because it feels just like every other rebellious teen novel.}

    Beth – Short and powerful, your sentence sets us up for an intense ride. The only thing I would do is give us some more details. Who would be dead and why? Even if you don’t want to use the boy’s name, give him a title, like “the traitor,” or something, just so we have a little more background. {Would I read on? For a few paragraphs, definitely. Long enough to see what was going on.}

    Stephanie – This is brilliant. It immediately asks a question that I want answered – why is she receiving fewer smiles? I can’t think of a lot of advice for this one. This is great! It sets up nicely and gives plenty of information in few words. {Would I read on? Yes, it feels right up my alley.}

    My sentence for YA Contemporary Suspense: I didn’t evade arrest for half a year just to turn myself in.

  33. My favorite so far is from Suzie F. –

    “Girls named Felicity should not be allowed to play tag football with boys.”

    Even if she hadn’t stated that the novel was geared toward upper MG I totally got that feel from the one line. My first line is upper YA.

    “There’s a moment that happens just before you crash that no one in driver’s ed tell you about.”

  34. @Stephanie Garber – Your first line spoke to me. Some might say it’s a little vague, but to me it’s evocative of so much that goes on during the YA years. It’s plainspoken, but beautifully so. I think it’s a wonderful first line – one that says a lot with very little.

    @Lois – Nice voice for a MG, imo. And I am a sucker for anything that starts with a dead body.

    @Caroline – Very cool first line – super specific and intriguing. The content is fantastic, but I wonder if it could be edited down slightly for clarity/punch? Or perhaps it would be more visceral if we were more inside her head? As it stands, this first line feels at a bit of a distance, imo. Maybe more, “She felt the string tug her little finger…”

    @Suzie – sounds fun! Quick, clean, to the point, and specific. Well done!

    @Gail Shepherd – I am a big fan of freaky-deaky paranormal, and you don’t get enough frogs raining down from the sky these days. Or, in your case, small birds. But I kind of want more clarity here. I am assuming you’re describing a supernatural rain as from days of yore, but I am not entirely sure. Birds do come out of the sky, after all. Maybe we’re just talking about a bird population explosion. If you are, I wished it was more:

    For the fifth day in a row, robins and sparrows rained down from the sky.

    And maybe even a little more detail, so we know exactly what we’re talking about here, like:

    For the fifth day in a row, robins and sparrows rained down from the sky, their small, broken bodies already cold and stiff when they hit the ground.

  35. E. Newmeyer: “The day Maya buried Eli was a miserable one.” I like the first part, but “was a miserable one” is so anti-climatic. There’s no zing to it. I’d love to feel more emotional draw.

    Stephanie: “People used to smile at me a lot more than they do now.” I love it! But, the second sentence better tell me why people don’t smile anymore.

    Beth:”The boy would be dead before the waning crescent.” I like the premise, but I think you could do more with it. “The boy” is so vague it makes me feel detached from the scene. And even for YA, “waning crescent” sounds out of voice to me. It almost has a news story feeling to it. Why do I care about this boy?

    And mine is an MG:

    The trouble started with a cookie.

  36. This is so much fun! I love seeing all these first lines and wonder how many of them I’ll be seeing again in print some day.

    @Derrick – While I get vibes of The Giver or City of Ember from your first line, the juxtaposition of the ordinary (wrapping paper, a girl named Suzy) with the extraordinary (destiny) is coming off a little melodramatic.

    @E. Newmeyer – I’d like the imagery to be a little more clear because I really want to know! Is Maya actually burying Eli? Was the day (weather) or the act (burying) miserable?

    @Lydia Sharp – You’ve got a very contemporary voice, but it’s a bit long and complex. And I wonder why it’s the outfit and not the cigarette that makes the mom disapprove.

    My MG historical fic: “Bea had broken at least six of the Ten Commandments. “

  37. Melody – “I didn’t evade arrest for half a year just to turn myself in.” I like it! My only quibble is the vagueness of the word “evade.” I’d like just a bit of a hint what that means (MC has been hopping trains/mind-altering police records/hiding in a basement…).

    Traci – “A high-pitched wail rises in the night, making goosebumps rise on my arms.” Hmm – I have questions like: what made the wail? Who is the MC and where is s/he – in a graveyard? However, I’m not sure they should be answered in the first line. Making me curious to read on is its purpose after all. So, I think this works though I hope those questions get answered in the next couple of lines.

    Elizabeth Varadan – “Imogene Walters leaned against the parlor doorjamb, listening.” I get the impression this is a period piece with the use of “parlor.” This should be more clear if so. I’m not sure how many mg aged kids know what a doorjamb is – I could be wrong about this. How important is it that we know Imogene’s surname right away? I’d like to know for sure whether Imogene is eavesdropping. It’s always nice if the MC is doing something, rather than passively listening – eavesdropping could be active with creeping silently to the door/pressing ear against wood, etc. Generally, I’d like to feel more of the mood of the scene.

    Here’s my YA SF/F: Piper strode down a game trail at a brisk but steady pace while the rising sun dropped beams like fire arrows through the ancient pines.

  38. Kathyrn: LOVE this. Immediately gets me thinking about what type of person she is and what actions she has done.

    Estee: Very clear and attention-getting. The voice already sounds MG-ish.

    Carolyn: Makes me think about what caused this catastrophe, whether its weather or having to do with a person or event. I’m intrigued.

    My MG fantasy: “I have never known my father’s name.”

  39. Jesse – Hey Jesse, although your first line’s intriguing, I would try to start off with something different. I’m sure the “horrible scene” comes right after this and I’d love to see it instead of being told.

    Stefanie Wass – Hi Stefanie, the puffer fish innuendo is hilarious and I’m already dying to know about your character. However, I think you could do without “in front of the entire Benjamin Harrison Middle School Orchestra.”

    Silvia – Hi Silvia, very interesting first line. The thing I’m dying to know is what type of holes and whether it’s going to turn into an I see dead people type of story.

    Great job everyone, loving all the first lines so far!

    Here is mine, it’s MG;

    “A cardboard sign can start to feel like a fifty-pound brick after holding it all day.”

  40. Awesome opportunity! Thanks, Mary.
    Here’s mine from my YA Contemp/Chick-Lit:

    By September of senior year, I have kissed or been kissed by 12 boys, but still have no boyfriend to show for it.

    -Melody- I like this. It definitely makes me want to know what happens next. A tiny nitpick: the word “evade” stands our as possibly more formal than the rest of the sentence.

    -Traci- This does an excellent job of setting the tone, but I wish it were more specific to what is going on with the MC right now.

    -Lydia- I love how much voice you packed into this sentence. I feel like it’s a bit long for a first sentence though.

    Also, I went through all the posts so far and picked out the first lines where I’d be able to guess the genre even if the author didn’t tell me. I’m not saying these are better than the others, but I thought it might be helpful, so here they are:
    Melody
    Traci (assuming yours is MG horror/mystery/thriller)
    Lydia
    Beth
    Suzie (assuming yours is contemp)
    Gail (assuming yours is MG or PB)
    Lois
    Sylvia (assuming yours is paranormal)
    Crystal (assuming yours is paranormal)

  41. Kathryn -I just had to comment again because I loved your first line, “Bea had broken at least six of the Then Commandments.” I totally smiled/laughed. I think it is great and I would definitely keep reading to see which commandments she broke!

    Elizabeth Varadan – I also really liked your first line “Imogene Walters leaned against the parlor doorjamb, listening.” I definitely get the mystery vibe, and I am not sure if your book takes place in an earlier time period, but if it does, good job! Your MC’s name, plus the word parlor create a clear image of an earlier time. I would for sure read on, I want to know what Imogene is listening for.

  42. First, sorry for the double comment from me. The first time I commented it said there was an error… I guess not. 🙂

    Some more crits –

    @Melody – Your first line, “I didn’t evade arrest for half a year just to turn myself in” really drew me in! I love the voice (slightly sassy) and it made me want to read on. I wanted to know why this person had been evading arrest for so long and it seemed like time was running out for him or her (though I was guessing a female). Sounds like a mystery/thriller to me.

    @ John R-H – Your first line, “Given the choice, Raven Academy for Boys was quite likely the last place Connor Price would have chosen to spend his eighth grade year,” was pretty awesome. Very loaded – we get a lot of information up front but it doesn’t seem like backstory – flows very nicely. I want to know why he didn’t have a choice – what is so wrong with this school or his situation.

    @Stephanie – Your first line, “People used to smile at me a lot more than they do now,” intrigued me because it made me want to know more about the character and what had happened that he or she no longer deserved or received smiles. I almost think it might be a little more punchy if you shortened it “People used to smile at me.” However, how you have it now might work really well with the flow of your story. 🙂 I would read on.

  43. Stefanie – I like the line, but I’m wondering if her head is swelling literally (like she got really sick) or from all the attention. The puffer fish analogy is a good one, but it sort of confused me.

    Lydia – I love the voice in this line! It’s fantastic. However I’d have to agree with others in saying that there is a lot going on here. I feel like you could probably put the period after “first cigarette of the night” and have a good first line.

    Estee – This makes me think of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” It suggests tension and intrigues me enough to read more.

    Melody – I like this first line. It sets high stakes and tension from the get-go, even if we don’t know yet what the MC would be arrested for.

  44. @Elizabeth Varadan “Imogene Walters leaned against the parlor doorjamb, listening.”
    I like it – I feel like all the ingredients are there. I might just tweak the word choice to reflect what the MC is feeling. Is it meant to feel more suspenseful? Mischievous? I think you could infuse more emotion into the line. “leaned” tells us she’s against a door, but how? Is her hand shaking? Is she quiet, trying not to be heard? And “listening” tell us she’s listening to something, but is she fearful? Hopeful? Angry? If she’s listening, hoping to catch a word of… or she’s giggling, listening to her brothers talk about girls… and what she’s listening to I think would introduce the first scene.

    @Melody “I didn’t evade arrest for half a year just to turn myself in.”
    I think this is a great start. It captures my attention and makes me wonder why your MC is thinking about, or has the opportunity now, to turn his/herself in. I feel like “evade” could be stronger though… it doesn’t make me feel like your MC was running from the law, but more like avoiding prosecution or something. If it’s really someone on the run, maybe something more visceral like “I didn’t have plastic surgery”, or “I didn’t hole up in the neighbor’s cellar”… I feel like that would begin to introduce elements of plot and setting as well as tell us how serious your MC’s predicament is.

    @Estee Wood
    I love this! To me this feels like the exception to the rule. There are no details on setting, character, or (unless your story is literally about a cookie thief) plot, but it still works for me. It’s clever and funny, but most importantly I feel like it has voice. It makes me want to read more and find out what the trouble was.

    Ok my first line for a PB:

    The Baron brothers set their sights on the horizon.

  45. Jesse: I just want to chime in and say I sort of like your first line. Though it’s possible that more specificity would work better, I like the way you start with the lowest common denominator (worst day) and put a twist on it (a normal day is horrible, so this one must be unthinkably bad). The way you say this is kind of fun.

    Lois: I like your line a lot. I’d cut the word “before.” It adds nothing and prolongs the point. I hope you’re going to say what’s dead immediately, in the next sentence or at least within the first page. I’m always skeptical when writers try to raise tension by withholding information the main character knows, or information the main character sees right now–especially on the first page. I’d rather wonder about what the character doesn’t know–like how the dead thing died–than about what the character does know.

    Elizabeth: I like how you start with a sense of setting and a colorful character name. Because this is a mystery, I’m guessing that the activity of listening–maybe eavesdropping–is important to this character. But the line has a bit of the quality Mary discussed in her post last week: it could be the first line of lots of books. Can you inject it with some tension, or with a stronger voice, to make it stand on its own?

    Traci: I like that you’re starting with tension. A high-pitched wail is scary–which is good–but I have no sense of who, what, when, or where here. This wail could come from a police siren, a lone wolf, a werewolf, a person being murdered, a friend playing a prank on a camping trip…anything whatsoever. Try to make your line more specific to your story. Also, be careful with cliches. Goosebumps rising on the arms are a classic, extremely common signal for showing fear. It’s so overused that it doesn’t really have any power anymore. The best option is probably to follow Mary’s advice and try to relay your character’s internal thoughts about this wailing noise. If he/she knows what is making the noise, say so, and make clear what’s scary about it. You get tension by showing what the main character doesn’t know, not by withholding information your main character does know.

    Melody: It sparks my interest that your MC has evaded arrest somehow, and I have a sense that action is coming right away. But the wording is confusing. The beginning of the sentence, “I didn’t evade arrest for half a year,” says the opposite of what it means. The bit about the character not wanting to turn him/herself in opens up too many vague possibilities regarding what could actually be happening. It gets me wondering, but in a confused way more than in a can’t-wait-to-turn-the-page way.

    Carolyn: The cookie is awesome, and a great place to start an MG, but I wonder if the trouble could be somewhat more specific. It would be fun if you could identify the trouble in a way that brought it to life or shed light on your main character’s personality or voice.

    Here’s my working opening line for a YA manuscript:

    I wish I’d had a past life.

  46. Jen M. -Thanks for your comments! My original first line was actually shorter, kind of like you suggested. Originally it just said, “People used to smile at me a lot more.” Maybe I should go back to that?

  47. Okay, one more.

    Kathryn: I love your line, especially if this is going to be a contemporary real-life MG about a religious crisis or something of the sort. I wonder if you could make it more direct by editing out the pluperfect and putting it in ordinary past. It would require another detail: “Bea broke at least six of the Ten Commandments before…” Before what? That’s for you to decide.

  48. June–I like this first line. I would be intrigued enough about his eyes to read further. It might make it more compelling if you use a proper name. Just an opinion.
    Lydia–As I slip out the front screen door and light my first cigarette of the night, Mom gives me a clear, silent signal with her eyes that she does not not *not at all* approve of my outfit, even though it’s the same thing I wear every frigging day.
    I like it, though consider, “Slipping out the front door,..etc. We see a conflict right away–Nce job–
    Kathryn–My MG historical fic: “Bea had broken at least six of the Ten Commandments.” Oh, I like. To me this holds lots of voice.
    Jen.M–I’m sure you’re reading this because you’ve heard the rumors – the ones about a boy, a girl in crazy knee-high socks, a junk-food-loving cat, and the living dead.
    I loved this–Thought it very compelling for the age group-I’m hooked.

    Here is mine: contemorary/realistic YA: My mother’s mission in life is to change me.”

  49. Thanks guys for your insight and a big thank you to Mary for organizing this!

    I’ll be commenting on others slowly, just so that the later ones can get critiqued as well 🙂

    Rachael: Great observation on genres. Speaking of which, I felt I could easily identify the genre for yours as well.

    My advice is try to get the line as punchy as possible. You can save the “September” (time of story) and the initiating nature of the kiss for later, even the second or third sentences. The sentence reads much easier:

    Ex. By senior year, I’ve kissed twelve boys and still have no boyfriend to show for it.

    Otherwise, a great line!

  50. @Stefanie: I too like the puffer fish image. But reading the other comments on your line made me wonder whether you were trying to communicate that the mc was scared out of their gourd to do it, or if he/she got a big head because of it. And I do think it would be stronger without the school name detail.

    @Suzie: I love your line. It made me laugh.

    @Estee: I like it when a story starts with trouble, but in this case I think it could be stronger if there was a juicy tidbit about what the trouble was exactly.

    Mine is for a PB:

    Everything Sophie drew came to life.

  51. Edit to my first post: I missed a ton of posts, so if I didn’t mention yours on that list I made, it could just mean I didn’t see it – plus it’s just MHO anyway 🙂 The list was just my way of saying, hey, here are some examples where I could tell the genre from the first line.

  52. The first line for my YA dystopian:
    “Siven smiles at me as she tightens her fingers around my neck.”

    @Heather—”Piper strode down a game trail at a brisk but steady pace while the rising sun dropped beams like fire arrows through the ancient pines.” While this sentence is specific, it’s a bit overwhelming for me. So many things are modified—game trail, brisk but steady pace, rising sun, beams like fire arrows, ancient pines. While I really love pretty much all of those images, I think they lose their impact because they appear so closely together in this sentence. Perhaps choose your one or two favorites, then simplify the rest so they stand out? Love the name Piper, though, and like I said, I really liked your images. Would definitely keep reading.

    @Beth—”The boy would be dead before the waning crescent.” I’m so torn on this one!! On one hand, I’m intrigued—who is this boy, why is he going to be dead, why is he going to be dead so soon?? I think the main thing holding me back from loving this are the words “waning crescent”—beautiful words, but for some reason I can’t put my finger on, they just don’t seem to fit. Also, I’m torn between wanting a name for the boy and loving it just as it is. Keeping it as “the boy” is definitely mysterious, which I like, but I think a name would make me care about him more, which never hurts a story. Either way, I’d be curious to see what happens next.

    @Traci—”A high-pitched wail rises in the night, making goosebumps rise on my arms.” I chose this sentence to critique because I think it’s inherently intriguing—what is with this creepy middle-of-the-night wail, you know?!?!?—but I think it could be written in a stronger way. Something more…viscerally experienced by the character, perhaps? I feel a little detached from the narrator and her fear, and I think it’s because the sentence feels a little ho-hum and not like oh-crap-something-is-wailing-and-it’s-dark-and-I’m-alone-and-it-could-totally-killllll-me urgent/threatening (especially the “making goosebumps rise on my arms” part, though I think the first half could use a little more urgency, too). Hope that makes sense, lol. I’m intrigued enough by the heart of what you’re saying that I’d be curious to read on.

  53. My first line is:
    “You’re being weird,” says my best friend, the girl I have loved since the day I realized I was a boy and she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

    I will comment on other openers next.

  54. @ Vera: I think you could tighten the sentence to this:

    The water crashed against my skull like waves against a rocky shore.

    It takes out a few filler words and the repetition of “crashed.” It sounds moody and a little dark. I like it!

    @jpetroroy “I have never known my father’s name.”

    I like this a lot. It’s simple but still says a lot.

    @H.E. Ellis “There’s a moment that happens just before you crash that no one in driver’s ed tell you about.”

    I like the idea of this. My suggestion would maybe to do something like:

    The moment just before you crash is never mentioned in driver’s ed. (or “was” mentioned depending on your POV). This feels a little more dramatic and less chatty, BUT if that’s the tone of your book, maybe it works.
    Or: A moment happens just before you crash that no one in driver’s ed tells you about.

    @Jen M. “I’m sure you’re reading this because you’ve heard the rumors – the ones about a boy, a girl in crazy knee-high socks, a junk-food-loving cat, and the living dead.”

    I like this. Anything I would tweak would be so minor it’s not worth mentioning, since this shows a style and voice already.

    I wasn’t going to post mine since I want to change it, but for now it’s still the first line. YA supernatural mystery:

    “I could tell it would be a long day when teh undead tour bus pulled into my gate.”

  55. Lyla — I found your first line very intriguing, and I liked the character name as well.

    Elizabeth
    I’m not sure I get enough titillating detail to reel me in — is it possible to give a hint of what she is listening to, without ruining the flow of your opening? (I like the name Imogene, by the way.)

    jpetroroy
    Liked this a lot — short and intriguing.

    My first line of a contemporary upper-middle-grade, possibly crossing-over-to-YA novel with a magical thread:

    “For Alexandra Caroline Olivia Morrow-Lloyd, Tuesdays were a minefield.”

  56. This is a great idea. Thank you.

    —-
    @SuzieF I am definitely intrigued by your first line. It has great voice and makes me want to keep reading.

    @Melody Your first line captures a feeling of urgency; I am expecting action right away. I want to know the backstory too.

    @Naomi Canale I am immediately drawn in. I am picturing a kid on a street corner. I would read on to discover more!

    Here’s mine (MG Ghost Story)
    “Before this year, eating soggy ramen while watching my little sister’s Ni Hao, Kai-Lan video was the closest I had ever been to China.”    

  57. What a fun competition! I had a lot of fun reading through everyone’s first lines. I’ll start by adding my line to the bunch!

    Mine is a YA fantasy: “Ariadne died on the morning of her seventeenth birthday.”

    ———————————————–

    –> John Rea-Hedrick
    “Given the choice, Raven Academy for Boys was quite likely the last place Connor Price would have chosen to spend his eighth grade year. ”

    For me, the reason why I like this opening line so much is because it promises something that may be boarding school. I adore stories set in boarding schools, or even just where school is the main location. I’m also curious about why Connor doesn’t want to go there. I’d definitely keep reading.

    –> Caroline
    “The string attached to her pinkie tugged as the door handle jiggled, but she was already awake.”

    This is curious, and my mind is already whirring to come up with reasons why she has a string attached to her finger that is also attached to the door. It’s mysterious and a little creepy, and I’d love to know what happens next.

    –> Jayme
    “Seven pressed back against the cold, uneven stones of the cell wall and listened to the rhythmic strikes of Five’s knife across the window bars.”

    This is possibly my absolute favourite. It gives a lot of information and raises a lot of questions in one snappy sentence. Why are they named after numbers? What are they doing in a cell? Why does Five have a knife? What did they do to get locked up? It’s tense and exciting, and reminds me of something that you’d read in The Hunger Games or Divergent.

    –> Lyla
    “On the night that Gabriel Durante harvested his one hundredth soul, he bought himself a pack of cigarettes and a drink.”

    I thought this was really cute, very snappy. I enjoy this sort of blasé view on death, sort of like he was just chilling out after a hard day at work. It’s also such a normal thing to do, to go out and buy yourself a drink, and normalises the weirdness that is his job of harvesting souls!

    –> Melody
    “I didn’t evade arrest for half a year just to turn myself in.”

    Again, this is the sort of opening sentence that raises questions and gets the reader thinking immediately. I’m wondering what the character did that meant he or she was on the run, and what was happening now that he or she was in the position that they might have to turn themselves in. It’s a good hook!

    I’m looking forward to reading more opening lines. This will be a blast!

  58. This is the first line of my YA dystopian novel: Today, I will learn my Date.

    Rachael: I like that! You get a glimpse of the narrator’s voice, and I’m immediately wondering, who are the boys? What happened? What’s this persons history? Great job provoking so many questions with just one line.

    Stephanie: Ooh, already feeling emotion just from that one line. It definitely drew me in and I would want to read more.

    Melody: Very compelling first line! I get the feeling just from that that there’ll be some action happening in your story. I would definitely turn the page.

  59. Thanks for this thread Mary. I have question, and hopefully it won’t get buried in all of these excellent first lines. How does the title influence the first line? Since the reader knows the title, can it give context to the first line?

    For example, I’ll use Crystal’s first line: “I never got the Bloodlust.” If the title read: THE DIARY OF A FRIENDLY VAMPIRE, the reader would knew where the story is headed, whereas if the title was: REVENGE: IT’S WHAT I DO the reader can deduce something totally different.

    So my question is, can the first line be genre vague, if the title is genre specific?

  60. Gail – I love your first line with the unique reference to birds raining down!

    Melissa K – I like your first line, although I wish there was a bit more to it 🙂 I’m guessing she does have a past life? Or she’s in a word of reincarnation where she hasn’t been?!?

    Rachael – I like the premise of your line, it definitely shows off her character, but it felt a little clunky to me still? I’m not sure ….

    Here’s mine, YA Sci-Fi:

    Mount Hood erupted shortly after midnight on the day Helene was kidnapped. I

  61. @Kayla – ooh, powerful opening. The only critique I would offer is that I would like some kind of descriptor to her smile, though others might disagree. As always, it depends on what your followup sentence is, but just from this line, I want some kind of hint as to what Siven’s thinking while her fingers tighten. Is it a malevolent smile, like you’d expect of someone strangling, or is it a more innocent smile that’s completely at odds with what she’s doing…something like that.

    @Shelley – I would just play with the wording a little – I think rephrased it could deliver more of a punch. ‘My mother’s mission in life is to change me’…I dunno, maybe there’s a play on words that could play into the idea of a mission in life, like her mission is to play mission commander to mine…no, that’s not right. Without knowing more about your story its hard to say, but it’s just a little vaguer than I’d like for a first line…what about your MC is the mother trying to change? That kind of thing.

    @R.A. – Ok, I love this first line. Short, sweet, and vaguely ominous. I immediately want to know who had what coming and why. Perfect for me.

    @Rachael – Two things – one, I think the wording could be changed to make it flow a bit smoother…kissed or been kissed by twelve boys kind of slows down a first line a little more than I’d like, and I think there are other ways to convey the same thought…which plays into my second point which is that I’d like to see a little more voice in that first line. It reads a little passively, your MC is just narrating events, with just a carefully chosen couple more words you could convey how she feels about that too.

    @Lydia – Honestly, I would just cut this line into two. It’s a perfectly correct sentence, but it reads a little longer than I’d want a book to open with…because I tend to see the first line as a measuring stick for every line that comes after. An overly long first sentence makes me think that most sentences are going to be that way, so I’ll be initially wary, if that makes sense?

    Here’s my first line, I’ll be back with more critiques later. Mine’s for a YA scifi, ‘Most Likely to Survive’:

    It kinda sucks being a mind-reader when everyone hates your guts and wishes you were dead.

  62. Naomi — I really like the 50-pound brick analogy. It makes me want to know more about your MC. I’m picturing a homeless girl. I would definitely read it!

    R.A. — I need more. Maybe a time frame. After 15 years and 21 fights, he had it coming.

    Elizabeth Varadan — Maybe, since it’s a mystery, Imogene should be hiding under the parlor table eavesdropping. “Leaning” doesn’t sound sneaky or mysterious enough.

    My MG first line: Rea Bryant sat on a curb surrounded by a sea of people walking and talking and gesturing, but she saw nothing.

  63. John Rea-Hedrick: Your first line was great. Something easily seen in a book I would pick up and read at the bookstore or library. it was engaging and made me want to know more.

    Suzie F: (Girls named Felicity)- this was an interesting opening. it made me want to know why? Is Felicity a prissy girl? A prissy name? Why shouldn’t she play tag football with the boys and why does she even want to play that with the boys? I would read on…

    Lois D. Brown (I’ve never seen anything dead): I love this. I totally want to know what this person is seeing and since it is middle grade, I assume it’s not too creepy. I am working on a MG (after finishing my YA recently) and my character is dead – talking with a live person. So this is cool. Maybe you can tell us what the person sees because I’m dying to know.

    Lydia: I think your idea is good – It seems as if you want to get in a bunch of info into the first line (or was it two lines and you converted it to one line?) I agree with the other comments…shorten it, tighten it, and give us more without saying so much – i know, easier said than done. Her voice is good, typical teen (exhasperated with mom) and it just needs to be tightened a bit.

    R.A. : (He had it coming.) I love it. I have no idea but I would guess, knowing nothing, it was a girl saying it about a boy ?? and I so want to know what he had coming to him and WHY? what did the poor guy do? Some might say it’s not enough info but I think it’s perfect. I want to read more to see what’s up.

  64. I probably should have added: my novel is YA contemporary. Maybe it was obvious.

    My first line is:
    “You’re being weird,” says my best friend, the girl I have loved since the day I realized I was a boy and she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

  65. Amy D – What a fun concept for a picture book! My only suggestion would be showing her drawing come to life. But I think it works great the way it is.

    Shelley – Definitely something YAers can relate to. Could you make it more specific? Like what her mother is trying to change. Personality? Clothes? Hair? Romantic interests? I’m always trying to get my kids to change their sheets. lol

    Stephanie Garber – I didn’t get to see your first line but I’d simplify even more. People used to smile at me. It lets us know that something has happened and it wasn’t good. Sometimes less is more. I would read on to see what happened.

    Mine is a YA Fractured Fairy Tale – The shadow crept along the wall like a clawed hand poised to strike.

  66. Vera, I like the words “up against,” but I think using it twice in one short sentence is redundant. Just a little reworking needed.

    R. A. – I really like your opening of “He had it coming.” I want to know who, what and why.

    Heather – You painted Piper and her place well, but the sentence was a bit long for my short attention span. That being said–I think my first line (below) is perhaps too long, too.

    My first line for an MG – “Watch out, don’t step in that pile of dog poop,” I yelled to my brother as he bounded through Mrs. Carter’s stank yard.

  67. My initial comment (page 1) was temporarily moderated and so posted after page one scrolled off. I’d love some feedback too in case you missed it on your first go over page 1!

    Thanks! 🙂

    With comment moderation in mind, I’ve chosen a few first lines from Page 1 that haven’t had many responses yet.

    @Vera (page 1) – The imagery is strong, but it could do with some tightening. “crashed up” could be just “crashed”. You’ve also used “crashing” which is redundant. Instead of “like the crashing waves up against a rocky shore” you might try “like waves shattering against a rocky shore.”

    @Gail (page 1) – My initial reaction was to be intrigued. Then my second reacton was to wonder how deep the piles of dead birds would be after actually “pouring” for five days. This first sentence *might* be overstating the imagery here.

    @Suzie F (page 1) – I like this opening. I have the sense immediately of both Felicity and the narrator of the story. Unless “tag football” means something outside the U.S., I think here you might mean “touch footbal” (or possibly “flag football”) instead.

  68. @Melissa M – Starting a novel with a quotation is difficult because we know nothing about the character who is speaking. It creates a disconnect because the narrator isn’t speaking to us, and dialogue is “telling” rather than setting the scene and establishing character.
    @Mary Ann Duke – Same comment as above.

  69. I counted to number twenty, landing right beside the Chevy truck door, when my toes got that pins and needles feeling again.

  70. @June I Love the Line There’s something about his eyes. It just makes you think of a guy who has really dreamy eyes lol it puts a lot of imagury without using many words because you think about the eyes of someone who you thought that there’s something about their eyes

    @Lois It seems like a greta line for a middle school book expect maybe instead of saying at least nothing this big say either what is is or I”ve never seen anything a dead animal that’s as big as an elephant before

    @Vera, I liked the imagry but you repeat crahsing twice, I’d avoid it maybe say waves smashing the shore or waves crushing the rocks

    Here’s mine:

    My first line, it’s for a children’s picture book:

    Elle was going to school for the first time and she was scared.

  71. Silvia – I love your first line. It’s offbeat and really drags you into the story, wondering what is going on.

    Vera – I like yours too. It’s very evocative. I can feel the way the water moves.

    Lydia – yours is absolutely full of voice, but I can’t help wondering if it isn’t a little too long. Also, I wonder why Mom is more worried about the clothes than the smoking…

    Estee – intriguing! What could possibly go wrong with a cookie?

    jpetroroy – not a terribly original first line. I’ve seen similar ones before.

    And here’s mine: The darkness is absolute.

    It’s from a YA contemporary novel.

  72. @Jen Your first line, “Before this year, eating soggy ramen while watching my little sister’s Ni Hao, Kai-Lan video was the closest I had ever been to China,” captured me. I liked the voice, the promise of things to come. Loved the soggy ramen. I wasn’t sure what Ni Hao, Kai-Lan was so I Googled it. It may be a bit specific and could date your manuscript in the future – or confuse readers who are not familar. However, I like the sentiment behind it and your first like “feels” right. Could you ellicit the same feeling with a different reference? Just some things to think about. 🙂

    @Stephanie Scott – I actually really love your first line, “I could tell it would be a long day when the undead tour bus pulled into my gate.” This would definitely keep me reading. I love the idea of an undead tour bus. Right away, my mind cycles through several images of zombie tourists. If humor was your intention, I think you got it! I saw that you wanted to change your first line – I really liked it but go with what you think your story needs.

    @Stephanie Garber – I would read your first sentence aloud with your first page of writing. (which I am sure you have already done) Then I would read it with the shortened version. I would go with the one that you feel draws your reader into the story best and flows with your style of writing. 🙂

  73. Oooo! Thanks Steph Wass, for the tweet about this!

    Estee: I wanna read further in yours because any book where the trouble starts with a cookie has my full attention.

    jpetroroy: I’m curious, does the story hinge on the MC not knowing her father? It may be more intriguing if the MC doesn’t know her mother. I like the idea of dads staying around and getting some recognition for being the loving, caring one.

    Traci: How about reversing the order of your first sentence or even splitting it in two short bursts. ‘Goosebumps rise on my arms.’ (Because then I ask: why?) Followed with: A high-pitched wail rises in the night. (Because now I want to know what’s wailing).

    Here’s the first line of my MG:
    Mitch peeped open the box’s lid.

  74. John Rea-Hedrick: Given the choice, Raven Academy for Boys was quite likely the last place Connor Price would have chosen to spend his eighth grade year.
    Love this because it sort of gives me shades o’ Harry Potter and I adore that kind of tale.
    Janice S.: The shadow crept along the wall like a clawed hand poised to strike.
    This was nice and visual. Immediate creepy vibe that makes me want to know what the shadow is. Nicely done.

    R.A.: He had it coming.
    This has so much potential for being so vague. Because we want to know who had what coming and why.

    **And my opening for my paranormal YA: I was thirteen when I found out why my mother left me.**

  75. YA Fantasy:

    Liz Kavanagh slumped on the downstairs sofa, staring at the television without really seeing what was on the screen.

    Great contest I will be back to comment when my kids take their naps!

  76. YA Fantasy:

    Liz Kavanagh slumped on the downstairs sofa, staring at the television without really seeing what was on the screen.

    Great contest and I will be back to comment when my kids take their naps!

  77. –>> JEN :“Before this year, eating soggy ramen while watching my little sister’s Ni Hao, Kai-Lan video was the closest I had ever been to China.”
    I like that! It sounds like it’ll take reader on a good journey and it’s a ghost story–intriguing!

    –>>Mellisa M. It was this part of your line: “since the day I realized I was a boy”, that got me, so I hope there’s something to the way you phrased that!

    –>>Marisa: Today, I will learn my Date. Yep, short and to the point, I like it!

  78. @Nikki – I really liked the idea of something cataclysmic happening at the same time something else happens on a smaller scale. I also like how you didn’t immediately link the two.

    @Barbara Watson – I LOVED the simplicity of your opening line. I definitely would read further.

    @Stephanie Scott – Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, my whole book is chatty. But I liked your suggestions. What I liked most about your line was how without the word “undead” the sentence is mundane, but by adding it the whole attitude changes. I liked the contradiction. Definitely worked for me.

  79. Wow! There are so many great comments and openings here already!

    That said, here’s the first line from my YA:
    No girl’s ever happy to wake up in a morgue, but just this once I was.

    Silvia – Killer line. I can’t wait to see where this takes us.

    John Rea Hedrick – I like the feel and the immediate access to the character. It’s pure MG and makes me think of “The Lightning Thief.” Perhaps drop “quite” or “quite likely” to make it punchier.

    Caroline – I’m intrigued by what direction this will go–whether it’s a thriller vibe or a girl paranoid about her brother breaking in and messing with her stuff. Either way, it’s interesting and clever by hinting at character without telling us overtly.

    Suzie F – Great! The voice and humor in this line make me want to read a book that sounds like a type I wouldn’t normally be interested in.

    Vera – I do like the line and the immediate drama of it. Also, I second what John said. In fact, you might want to go a step further and just have it read: “The water crashed against my skull like the waves against a rocky shore.”

    Gail – I’m definitely into this, although it will probably take a second line for me to know the age group this is written for. I doubt yours is a PB, but “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” popped in my head right away. I appreciate the mystery of it, because at this point, I don’t know if you’re just making a poetic statement about a lot of birds flying through or describing a bizarre fantastical element. Either way, I like it!

    Mary Ann Duke – Another great MG voice. My only suggestion is that it seems like a lot words for a yelled warning. Perhaps condense the dialogue to something like this: “Watch out for the dog poop!” Just a thought.

    Lyla – “On the night that Gabriel Durante harvested his one hundredth soul, he bought himself a pack of cigarettes and a drink.” I like this for the grounding in genre and character. It has attitude. One concern–which could be completely unfounded–is that this will lead into a scene of the MC sitting or standing around reminiscing as he smokes and drinks rather than a more active opening. Still, from this line alone, I would definitely read more.

  80. @Kayla Olson – The opening line certainly grabs my attention. The smiling contrast adds an unsettling element to the action. Nice! If this is intended to be an act of violence, you might replace the “neck” with “throat” which adds a little bit more power to the sentence and increases the sense of the POV’s vulnerability.

    @Nikki – Great use of setting to ratchet up the emotional intensity we feel about Helene’s kidnapping. The eruption of the volcano is a great mirror for the story’s emotional tension.

    @Melissa K – Nice opening! Most people wish they were someone else RIGHT NOW. This comment by the narrator makes him/her immediately more interesting. It suggests someone who is reflective and thoughtful.

    @Shelley – The opening is interesting, but I’m not sure it says anything specific about YOUR story. Lots of people have (or believe they have) Moms who want to change them. If you can sneak something into that first line that makes YOUR Mother/child story special, then that first line would really grab my attention.

    @Amy D – I like it! I can’t really comment because I think it says everything it needs to say.

    @Serena – I love the name Ariadne! The tragic story Ariadne from Greek mythology comes to mind. I’d certainly read on in hopes of a retelling of her story (or a mirroring of her story) in almost any setting.

  81. Hi and thanks to all. These are the first few lines of my PB manuscript. Let me know what you think. Want a few more lines? Let me know and again, thanks!

    Dizzy Dragonfly lived in a little pond near the bright, golden meadow. Dizzy looked like most dragonflies, except for a scruffy bit of yellow hair at the top of his head. However, he did not act like most dragonflies. He did something that none of the other dragonflies ever did!

  82. Hello again. I am new to this so if ony suppose to submit one, please let me know and I will chill out! :>) These are the beginning lines for a early chapter book. Thanks!

    Seven year old Boo arrived at the playground early one Sunday morning. There were a few clouds swirling about, but otherwise, it was warm and sunny. Boo heard a strange sound. “Wrrrr…Grrrr…whoosh.” He wondered where the weird noise was coming from. He turned around to look but didn’t see a thing. Little goose bumps rose all over his body.

  83. Last one. This one is in a more rough draft stage at the moment. It is the beginning of a MG novel. Thanks again all!

    Windhaven had been a normal town where unusual things almost never happened. In fact it would be accurate to say that the town of Windhaven, off the coast of New England, was a downright boring little town. The most exciting thing to happen in Windhaven was the Fourth of July picnic, and the occasional fish fry. The town was filled mainly with the very young, those unable to escape, or the very old, or as they’re sometimes called, the nearly dead!

  84. Jonathan S – well, I’m intrigued. I would definitely read further on this one.

    Kathryn of the ten commandments – likewise, I would definitely want to keep reading this one.

    Mary Ann Duke – Oh, anything with a brother and dog poop in the same sentence has my full attention! Sounds wonderful.

    Here’s my first line from a PB: “An elephant flew through my window today”

    I’ll be back with more – I can’t keep it to three.

  85. I just realized that it is the (first) line not lines. I apologize to all. Please take first line only and yes, I know I left in the last line by error on the Windhaven project. Thanks again

  86. @Kait Nolan – Nice first line! It’s clear and tells me several things about the narrator right away. I also know immediately there is a story here. I’d read on.

    @JessicaL – Your opening suggests there’s a larger story here, but after reading it I’m still not drawn in enough yet. Can you call out something unusual in the scene to give it more life? Is there blood? Is she wearing her pajamas? Maybe if the TV isn’t even on and she’s still staring at it that might further suggest something disturbing is in play.

    @Jonathan S – This line certainly got my attention. I think I like it, but was a bit confused. I couldn’t tell if “but just this once I was” was suggesting the narrator had actually woken up in the morgue before and THIS time she was happy about it. Or if of all the girl’s who aren’t happy to wake up in a morgue, she wasn’t one of them.

  87. Here are my comments:

    @M.W. — intriguing, yet a little awkward in the phrasing, but with a little work this could be great.

    @John Rea Hedrick (did I spell that right, can’t even read my own writing =))–Good. I like it enough to keep reading. Don’t know if this type of an opener has been done too much before, but I now need to know why Connor doesn’t want to go there.

    @Silvia — I love the first half of your line, seeing holes in people. I wonder what it means and want to find out, but the last half could be more exciting.

    @Jen M. — LOVE it! Don’t change a thing.

    @Estee — Hee hee. Still love this my critter!

    @Melissa M. — Cute!

    @Stephanie Scott — Hilarious!

    @Marissa – I like it!

    @Jonathan S. — I’ll have to read more–good questions raised.

  88. @Silvia

    “When Misha started seeing holes in people, she told her mother.”

    I found this metaphysically intriguing. My feeling is that Misha is young and that the seeing of the holes did not frighten her, but she knew she needed answers as to why she was seeing the holes. One thought I had was that people really do have holes in them, but I assume the holes Misha sees are a hand’s width wide and pass all the way through peoples’ bodies.

    ——————————

    @Lois D. Brown

    “I’ve never seen anything dead before–at least nothing big–until now.”

    This is interesting. I suggest starting with “I’d never seen…” and leave off the “until now” because I think the first phrase implies “until now.” This line makes me feel that it leads into a murder mystery, or an alien-mutilation-of-livestock mystery.

    ——————————

    @Amy D.

    “Everything Sophie drew came to life.”

    This line grabbed my imagination by causing many variations to spring forth for consideration and exploration. So many story possibilities come from a humble beginning such as this.

    “Sophie loved to draw, but she did not realize that what she drew came to life.”

    “Sophie loved to draw, and thought it cool that what she drew came to life.”

    “When Sophie learned that what she drew came to life, she used the skill as a tool to get what she wanted.”

    “Now that she had learned how to bring to life the things she drew, no one was going to bully Sophie ever again.”

    So many ideas, the list could on and on.

    ——————————

    I am still exploring the possibilities for the first line in my current YA speculative fiction project. Right now, it says:

    “Were it not for me, you, your family, your friends, all of humanity would be dead.”

    ——————————

    This sharing and critiquing of first lines is interesting and fun, but I feel overwhelmed trying to work through the posts. Comments in a blog do not support this type of activity very well.

  89. Hi Kathryn. I like it but I am a little thrown with the break-up portion of the sentence ending. I am not the best editor in the world, so include ideas from everyone. Since you are writing it in the 1st person and it sounds like past tense, I might suggest you try other deviations.

    I sat wondering if not knowing my name really was the worst part of life.

    Or: When I sat back I envisioned all the things worse than not knowing my real name.

  90. Kathryn Roberts:
    **I used to think the worst part of my life was the not-knowing-my-last-name-part.**
    Repeating ‘part’ sounds awkward, so I’d revise to just: I used to think the worst part of my life was not knowing my last name.
    Other than that, I’m intrigued and am curious what the actual worst part of the character’s life is.

    Jonathan S:
    **No girl’s ever happy to wake up in a morgue, but just this once I was.**
    Good first line; I’m intrigued. Maybe put a comma between “once, I was.”

    JessicaL:
    **Liz Kavanagh slumped on the downstairs sofa, staring at the television without really seeing what was on the screen.**
    I think this sentence could be tighter/stronger. In one clause you have two -ing verbs (staring/seeing) plus the adverb (really) plus the ‘to be’ verb (was). If you can revise to eliminate some of that, it will help, but I wonder if there’s a more interesting way to start your book instead. Maybe by giving a hint of why she’s not paying attention to the TV.

  91. Suzie F.: Your line got an immediate chuckle. It’s the specificity of “Girls named Felicity” that does it. Good work.

    Jpetroroy: This makes me think the story might be intriguing, but as a first line it seems a little generic and possibly overdone.

    Estee Wood: I like this. Trouble up front, and from a seemingly unlikely source.

    Gail, you already know I love yours. 🙂

    Here’s my first line, from an upper-MG/lower-YA fantasy that begins in the ordinary world:

    I knew I was in for it when I finished my solo and Canon Howard turned his
    ray-gun glare on us choristers with, “Good work, Danny.”

  92. Sylvia. Love the first line. Grabbed my attention. I want to know why she was seeing holes in people. Would get me to read on.

    Amy. Love the simple writing of the first line. It captures the essence of the story. The reader will get it.

    Jessica. I think it has great potential but it sounds too much, (to me) like making a statement rather than drawing a reader in.

    Maybe? Liz Kavanagh slumped down on the sofa, her mind numb, staring blankedly into space.

  93. Coming a little late to the party, but here goes anyway!

    My 3 Comments:

    Jayme-I really like your first line about Five and Seven. The only thing that tripped me up a bit was why Seven was pressing the stone-to feel the vibrations made by Five? The pressing back part is unclear-I want to know why this person is pressing back and against what-or if the person is merely feeling the other’s movements-in which case maybe get rid of “listening”. It could read something like: Seven pressed a hand against the cold, uneven stones of the cell wall. He/she felt as much as heard the rhythmic strikes of Five’s knife across the window bars.

    Gail Shepherd-I love the unexpected quality of this first line. I would love to see where you take it and why the fifth day is the one that needs to be the start of the story since falling feathered friends are pretty cool in their own right!

    Derrick-I think your first line needs to be more specific. I like the image of a girl nestled in a heap of wrapping paper, but I wouldn’t start with a phrase. You could say something like: Suzy waded through a sea of torn wrapping paper and ribbons before coming to the last unopened box. She lifted the lid carefully….and here is where you need something way more specific than destiny. Give us a clue or let us know how big whatever it is will be by having her feel a premonition or something as she opens it.

    And now, my first line (YA contemporary about an impending apocalypse):

    “Shoot to kill this time, okay?” Will winks and shoulders me into the waist high corn as we walk through the field to the gun range.

  94. @Susan Halley — I almost rewrote it to say : I used to think the worst part of my life was not knowing my last name. But then I decided to leave it as it was. Funny thing is, I don’t remember changing it to the broken up version. I think I’ll definitely change it back. Thanks!

  95. Thanks everyone for your feed back! You are all so talented! I will definately take my critiques to my computer, Thanks again.
    @John, I thought your opening line was great. If at all possible,maybe a bit shorter.
    Sorry for the double submission. I didn’t think it worked the first time.
    Great post Mary!

  96. YA contemporary:

    So, I’m standing on the corner of Presidents Street and Jefferson Way dressed like a hamburger because, yeah, it’s that kind of a life.

    @Melissa M–Your first line made me smile and want to know what he’s going to do to get her to see him in *that* way.

    @Amy D–Love the possibilities your first line provides. What will she draw–fantastical, sweet things? Things that belong in nightmares? Or something more ‘ordinary’ like a friend?

    @June–I’d love to see more in the first line about what is special about his eyes so we (as readers) can determine for ourselves that his eyes are special.

    @jpetroroy–IMHO, your first line, though simple, is filled with that elusive ‘voice’. I want to read more about this child, why s/he has never know Dad’s name, and since it’s fantasy, I’m assuming it’s for her/his safety and that intrigues me.

  97. I just kind of picked a few at random, starting with the most recent posts:

    @amychristineparker – At first I thought this was two lines, but I guess it could be construed as one, depending on how you read it. I’ve heard it’s best to avoid dialogue as the first line, but that’s certainly not a hard and fast rule, and I think this line has enough punch to work as an opener. I think the long dialogue tag weakens it, though. I’d shorten it considerably or even cut it altogether.

    @Lester – I like it, and it introduces the genre well, but this seems like a lot of people to be introducing in an opening line. And these are people we don’t know, so we can’t relate as well to the speaker, the dialogue, and the friends/family/etc. being introduced. I might suggest using a non-dialogue line as your opener, or making this one more specific.

    @Amy D – I wanted to comment on your line because I like it so much. It works perfectly as it is, and I wouldn’t add a single thing to it. Its ambiguity makes it rich and intriguing. Do her drawings actually come to life? Is she just supremely talented? It’s a great line that really captivated my interest.

    Here’s mine, a work in progress (YA sci-fi/psychological thriller): “I think of fear as a creature with fingernails, feathering the back of your neck in a dark, quiet room.”

  98. Thanks for all current and future feedback! There were only two when I hit submit on my comment (although the timeline doesn’t look that way), and I wanted to mention that Stefanie Wass’s entry made me laugh!

  99. Melissa M:
    I like the potential of the story about a guy in love with his best
    friend, but I think the first line could be stronger. My comments in
    brackets:
    “You’re being weird,” says my best friend [put her name here], the
    girl I have loved since the day I realized I was a boy [I think it
    would read better/make more sense as: ‘I realized she wasn’t a boy,’
    since I assume the MC has more awareness of himself than her] and she
    was the most beautiful girl [you’ve repeated ‘girl’ twice; change one
    if possible] in the world [this is a missed opportunity to give a
    unique reason for why he loves her, thinking she’s beautiful is pretty
    generic/uninteresting].

    Steph F.:
    **Rea Bryant sat on a curb surrounded by a sea of people walking and
    talking and gesturing, but she saw nothing.**
    If she saw nothing, how does she know what the people were doing?
    Unless this is omniscient, it’s a POV slip. Maybe change to something
    like: Rea Bryant sat on a curb as a sea of people brushed past (or
    swirled past).
    I also think ‘walking and talking and gesturing’ is too
    vague/non-descript. If their actions are important enough to mention,
    you should describe them with more specific detail.

    Kalen O-Donnell:
    **It kinda sucks being a mind-reader when everyone hates your guts and
    wishes you were dead.**
    I like it. Good voice and I’m curious about the character/story.

    Marisa:
    **Today, I will learn my Date.**
    Really good. I want to read more. If you hadn’t said, I probably
    would’ve still guessed this is dystopian.

  100. This is awesome. Will def. review some soon. Here is mine:

    Meerkats. That’s the reason I will be forced to give my father for losing my baby brother in the woods.

  101. Jean:
    **Meerkats. That’s the reason I will be forced to give my father for losing my baby brother in the woods.**
    Love it. No idea what this story is about, but I want to read more.

  102. Kalen: I love yours. It’s so funny.

    Jean: I never would have guessed contemporary. Meerkat snatching babies sounds too fantasy. If it’s contemporary try starting with the I-just-lost-my-baby-brother-in-the-woods part — that’s an emotionally charged beginning. (Especially if you have a baby brother.)

  103. Kathryn,
    thanks for the comment – I actually have a different version of my first chapter and hence, a different opening line without the quote. I hear what you are saying. I know some people are also writing their other versions but am not sure if I should post my ‘other version’ here.

    but – thank you for the feedback. Melissa

  104. Jean

    I like it. I really hope your character didn’t lose her brother in the woods because of meerkats. ha ha

    i’d be interested in knowing how/why she lost her brother.

  105. Jen M said @Jen Your first line, “Before this year, eating soggy ramen while watching my little sister’s Ni Hao, Kai-Lan video was the closest I had ever been to China,” captured me. I liked the voice, the promise of things to come. Loved the soggy ramen. I wasn’t sure what Ni Hao, Kai-Lan was so I Googled it. It may be a bit specific and could date your manuscript in the future – or confuse readers who are not familar. However, I like the sentiment behind it and your first like “feels” right. Could you ellicit the same feeling with a different reference? Just some things to think about

    and I agree. liked it a lot but if you don’t have a clue about Ni Hao, Kai-Lan – you might not understand. but the ‘feel’ was there.

  106. I know I’m late to the party, but here’s my first line for a MG magical realism novel:

    The antique key rattled as I slipped it into the treasure chest in the middle of my grandparents’ living room.

  107. @Melinda: You tell a lot in your first line. I like that there is already conflict, and that I already know that your character actually likes loud music. The only thing I would say is, I always find it off putting for the first line to start with a pronoun. Can you say who “he” is instead?

    @Christina: Your line is interesting. It is really specific, about the pins and needles and the truck and the number 20, but it is also a little vague about who actually happend. Of course it might get explained in the next line, but on first reading I’m confused by what landed by the truck.

    @Silvia: I don’t really know what to say except that I love it. It’s specific (Misha has a name, which I love), and even though I don’t know what it means, I don’t feel lost, because I know what’s happening – she sees holes in people, and she told her mom. I definitely want to read more.

  108. I’ve only been reading here for a few days, but I love this idea. So I’m going to jump right in. Please take me advice with a grain of salt since I’m new to this and these are really quick first impression thoughts.

    @June– If it is important to the story to talk about his eyes, I’d be a lot more specific and less passive. An example, knowing nothing about the story: His eyes glowed with a fire that both terrified and fascinated me.

    @M.W. – This is an interesting line. It conveys a lot of information and is unique, but it somehow seems to lack emotion even though there are a lot of things that should have emotion. I think this may be because you don’t get any sense of how the “I” feels about this. Maybe something more like this, but with emotions and details that fit the story: My abandoned home had never given me anything as wonderful as the homeless girl I now found in my old bed.

    @Vera – I wouldn’t use crash twice. I also feel like I would want to know what the character is thinking and to have a little more grounding about what’s happening.

    @John Rea-Hedrick – I’d be more direct and also give a little hint of the
    future with something like: Raven Academy for Boys was the last place Connor Price would have chosen to spend his eighth grade year, but he never dreamed it would be this bad. (or whatever is appropriate to the story)

    @Leesa – I feel like I’d like a little more context here. For example: “The bullies could sense fear, so she tried to hide her ragged breathing.” Basically, why is her breathing ragged and why is she trying to hide it?

    @Crystal – And how do you feel about not getting the bloodlust- happy, smug, disappointed, envious… ?

    @Jesse – First, I believe that horrible should be horribly. Beyond that, I’m not sure I would read further than that. It feels so very negative with no hint of hope. That, however, is just a personal preference for more positive things I think.

    @Stephanie – I like this line. I really like the puffer fish image.

    @Gail—What kind of book is this? I’m guessing it’s a picture book. I really like the image and am intrigued.

    I think I should stop there, but I may do more later since this is a very interesting exercise.

    My first line from a picture book: I’m Zelma Jean and I’m planning a positively perfect party.

  109. 1st line – YA

    “What do you want your name to be this time?”

    Estee: Love this. You don’t think of a cookie causing any trouble except maybe in your waistline.

    Naomi: I’m intrigued.

    Kathryn: Would read more just to see which six!

  110. Wanted to repost the first line from my YA/memoir, because my post isn’t appearing (at least on my screen) and I fear it got lost in the shuffle. I truly appreciate all feedback:

    “He had it coming.”

    I love reading everyone’s first lines! What an incredible group of writers.

  111. Lydia

    As I slip out the front screen door and light my first cigarette of the night, Mom gives me a clear, silent signal with her eyes that she does not not *not at all* approve of my outfit, even though it’s the same thing I wear every frigging day.

    First, I love the voice. However, as others have pointed out it’s a long sentence. I think you could break it up without losing anything and the shorter sentences might make it even edgier. Still awesome work on the voice.

    Two people, one comment:

    June
    There is something about his eyes.

    Jesse
    The worst day of my life started like any other: horrible.

    I have the same comment for both of these first lines. Both of these are intriguing, but I recently read an article about first lines. One of the keys to a good first line is uniqueness to your story. Your first line needs to be something that could not be put at the beginning of any other story. For me, both of these could begin any story. This isn’t to say the underlying statements aren’t intriguing, but rather that you might want to find a way to make these lines uniquely yours… to draw the reader into your worlds.

    Melinda
    His music is too loud—not exactly a problem, except that it’s louder than mine.

    Love it! This is a great first line full of character and tension. Great work!

    Awesome work everyone, this is a great way to wip those first lines into shape. 😉

  112. @M.W.: I think you are being overly critical on your first line. It definitely provides intrigue. One thing I would try to shy away from is using “homeless” and “home” in the same sentence. If someone already said that, I apologize. Trying to review as I go. Things to think about: does your narrator know for sure that the girl is homeless, or does she just look homeless? Ragged? Dirty? Is the former home a house? Apartment? Cabin? Mansion? Good luck! I want to know more about why it’s her former home and what the girl is doing there.

    @Vera Soroka: Very vivid imagery. Depending on the tone you’re going for, this type of simile could tread a fine line between interesting and trite–I guess it depends how the following lines play out. I would say the same thing I said above to M.W., though–which is that I would avoid using “crash” twice in the same sentence. If you’re doing it for affect, I totally get that, I know how that goes, and that’s something to consider. But in this instance would another word be better? I’m definitely curious to know what’s happening.

  113. I’m a bit late, but still participating! 🙂

    I’ll start with the critiques, then post my first line separately.

    @Joseph Miller: “The antique key rattled as I slipped it into the treasure chest in the middle of my grandparents’ living room.”

    The “magical” aspect of your novel really shines with this opening line, and I find it quite intriguing. I would definitely keep reading, and would not change a thing. Good job!

    @Jean: “Meerkats. That’s the reason I will be forced to give my father for losing my baby brother in the woods.”

    I think your first line showcases quite a bit of voice, and instantly raises some questions in my mind, and I commend that. However, I’m a bit confused, and I think it may be because of how you worded it. “That’s the reason I will be forced to give my father for losing my baby brother in the woods” just doesn’t read well in my mind. Obviously I don’t know the story, but maybe if you added the word “away” after “father”? I may be reading it wrong, but other than clarity, I like it, and would definitely keep reading. 🙂

    @Melinda: “His music is too loud—not exactly a problem, except that it’s louder than mine.”

    This first line is all right to me, but could be worked on. It displays your character’s voice and personality well, and that’s definitely a good thing. However, it doesn’t read like a first sentence capable of propelling a story forward, and I don’t have any questions popping up in my mind. I’d add a little detail, and somehow tag something on the end that would both continue the story and make us want to continue reading.

  114. Joseph Miller:
    **The antique key rattled as I slipped it into the treasure chest in the middle of my grandparents’ living room.**
    The antique key and treasure chest at the grandparents’ house have me curious, but I think the writing could be stronger. You have three prepositional phrases (in, into, of)–at the very least you could cut ‘the middle of’ and not lose any of the meaning. But it’s also not clear if ‘slipped it into the treasure chest’ means unlocking the chest, or placing the key inside it. Maybe consider breaking it up into two sentences, something like: My hand shook as I approached the treasure chest in my grandparents’ living room. The antique key rattled when I slipped it into the lock.

  115. Miles:
    **Camilla Bradford counted to ten, then walked out into the street.**

    Really good. I want to read more. Maybe cut ‘out,’ not sure you need it.

  116. Nikki and John Rea-Hedrick: Thanks for your feedback and kind words! Nikki, you’re absolutely right that the line could do more. And you’re on the right track with your guesses, sorta.

    Nikki: I really like how you cram two enormous events into one opening sentence. You’re pretty much making a promise to the reader that there’s going to be some strong connection between the two events. I’m already making some guesses: maybe the eruption will complicate the kidnapping, or maybe Helene has some superpower that causes disasters to happen when she’s in crisis. Side note: Is the phrase “shortly after midnight” absolutely essential here? It doesn’t feel as important as the rest, so my gut says to cut it from the opening line.

    John Rea-Hedrick: I like yours a lot, too. This is an uncommonly erudite voice for an eighth grader, but it’s consistent throughout the sentence: “given the choice”…”quite likely,” etc., so it’s working for me so far. These phrases suggest that this kid is smart, and also that he prides himself on careful, intelligent speech. Overall, I like this voice but think it’s slightly overshadowing the content. Can you pare out just a few words, or maybe tweak the sentence to remove the clunky past conditional (“would have chosen”)? I don’t see an obvious way to do this, but I’m betting you could find one if you played around a bit. The content introduces awesome tension right away, so you don’t want it to get lost.

  117. R.A.:
    **Wanted to repost the first line from my YA/memoir, because my post isn’t appearing (at least on my screen) and I fear it got lost in the shuffle. I truly appreciate all feedback:
    “He had it coming.”**

    [I saw some comments on this line on p. 2 (and your original comment on p. 1), so you may want to click back to the other pages to make sure you don’t miss any of your feedback.]

    When I read this line, the first thing that pops in my head is the song from Chicago. Because of that it feels a little unoriginal to me (but this could just be me). The line does raise character/story questions, and that’s good.

  118. My opening line for my middle grade sci-fi adventure:

    If I heard the words ‘anal probe’ one more time, I was going to explode.

  119. Melinda: I like the way your opening line suggests a competition between the two characters (probably a girl main character and her love interest). However, I question the “not exactly a problem” part. It dissipates the conflict. Plus, the word “too” has already suggested that it is a problem. If this girl (sorry if I’m wrong on the gender) is a passive type of person who avoids conflict by claiming that problems do not exist, try to establish this more clearly. She could berate herself for feeling that it’s a problem when it’s such a little thing, or she could wish she had better speakers–that sort of thing.

  120. Many first lines were added since I posted this morning, so I wanted to jump back in to leave some feedback. (My first line was the ramen noodles/Ni Hao, Kai-Lan one.) Thanks for the critiques. I assumed everyone had heard of Kai-Lan. I guess I need to start socializing with people who are not or do not have preschoolers. 🙂

    @Jean: I really like the voice in your first line. It sets up a definite and immediate problem, plus meerkats are just awesome.

    @Melinda I found myself really drawn in by such a simple first line. I am thinking this is someone who is used to being heard or the center of attention, and now there is this guy who is even bolder than her. (I pictured a female MC.)

    @Miles Camilla Bradford counting to ten and then walking into the street will likely lead us somewhere, but I can’t tell from the first line where that might be. She might be getting ready to perform in a street festival, or she might be about to slay soul-sucking demons, or she might be getting up the courage to confront that snobby prom queen once and for all. Do you see what I mean? We know Camilla is getting ready for something, but maybe giving the reader just a hint more would add something to this line. I liked it, but it could be the first line for just about any genre.

  121. R.A.–>love your first line! It would make any girl wonder what he did to get what he had coming! Lots going on in my head right now!

    Melinda–>I’m sorry, but your first line doesn’t really draw me in. Perhaps more of a reason that the problem is it’s louder than hers (assuming its a her) could add some intrigue?

    Amy D.–>like your first line for a PB. Sounds like a setup for a great story!

  122. @jpetroroy “I have never known my father’s name.” Simple but compelling and the possibilities are endless.

    @HE Ellis: “There’s a moment that happens just before you crash that no one in driver’s ed tell you about.” I like the tone. I want to know what happens after the crash.

    @E. Newmeyer : “The day Maya buried Eli was a miserable one,” I like this line because I want to know what role Maya played in Eli’s death, who Eli is and why she’s taking care of the burial.

    My first line for a YA Fantasy:
    I see acts of kindness all the time and they aren’t random.

  123. From my MG adventure “Lucky O’Leary” – “Lucky, don’t do it!”

    From my YA Fantasy “Prince of Terramagus” – Rand Olsen slowed as he came to the “Bear Attack Area—Do Not Enter” sign.

  124. @Vivian – So, I’m standing on the corner of Presidents Street and Jefferson Way dressed like a hamburger because, yeah, it’s that kind of a life.

    I really like it. Sounds like the story will be fun!

    @Kari Young – I see acts of kindness all the time and they aren’t random.

    That is such a neat line. I definitely want to read more.

    @Kimmy – If I heard the words ‘anal probe’ one more time, I was going to explode.

    Well, if that doesn’t get a middle grade reader laughing right away, I don’t know what would. Sounds like an alien abduction.

    @Joseph – The antique key rattled as I slipped it into the treasure chest in the middle of my grandparents’ living room.

    Nice opening. It’s already established a setting.

  125. @Jen “Before this year, eating soggy ramen while watching my little sister’s Ni Hao, Kai-Lan video was the closest I had ever been to China.”  

    Great start! My MG reader would definitely find this first line sticky. China is a great setting.

    @Kathleen “I think of fear as a creature with fingernails, feathering the back of your neck in a dark, quiet room.”

    That is creepy, but in a good way! Instantly creates the right mood for your story.

    @Joseph M “The antique key rattled as I slipped it into the treasure chest in the middle of my grandparents’ living room.”

    I really enjoyed this first line. My son would be immediately interested.

    Here is mine (YA Suspense/Mystery Novel)

    There is something about being chained upside down in a soundproof man cave from hell that puts high school in such clear perspective.

  126. @Mike Robbins: “Rand Olsen slowed as he came to the “Bear Attack Area—Do Not Enter” sign.’

    I like this line because you know it can lead to no good, which always makes for a great adventure.

  127. @Kari – I really like that. I sense a strong voice, and I feel like get a strong sense of what the theme might be.

    @Miles – I like your line. Counting to ten really suggests some kind of intense emotion/drama off the bat.

  128. my picture book:
    “One hundred one, one hundred two, one hundred three raindrops!” said Gigi.

    @Mike Robbins: “Rand Olsen slowed as he came to the “Bear Attack Area—Do Not Enter” sign.’ (Mike I can see this place, forested in the middle of nowhere!)

    @jpetroroy “I have never known my father’s name.” (OMG I haven’t either = we have an instant bond)

    @miles: Camilla Bradford counted to ten, then walked out into the street (ok what happens next?! I gotta know! LOL! Very very good choice)

    @amyD: Everything Sophie drew came to life. (I like this line very much = jumps right in!)

    This was so much fun! Thanks Mary!

  129. @Jen. Interesting…Definitely got the sense the narrator is someone who was leading a very normal life until now. I would maybe cut the Ni-Hao Kai-lan reference, and just leave it with chinese food. Ramen may be more Japanese though…change the food up a bit? But I would try to keep the sense that “soggy” evokes: the blandness and lack of color and excitement. (We’ve all had bad take-out.) That sets the reader up for something exciting to come…

    @ Jen M. Liked the voice. Could sense humor in the set up. I was intrigued.

    @Silvia. Was very interested in what comes next. The line definitely grabbed me. Am also thinking (like Lester) that the main character (at least at this point) is very young. Not sure if holes are metaphorical, or real, but I want to read more…

    My first line (PB): Pluck the chicken was the bravest animal on Finnegan’s farm.

    This was fun! Thanks for starting this…

  130. @Kimmy – love it!!! that’s hilarious 🙂

    @Ashley E – great set up, I’m hooked already!

    @Vivian – I adore this, definite voice.

    @Miles – interesting, I’m curious to know why he/she did that.

  131. My first line is from my MG story: McLoozer wasn’t his real last name.

    Working on short time right now so I promise to comment on other’s first lines tomorrow. Thanks and I appreciate all comments/critiques.

  132. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s first lines.

    Kimmy – hilarious! Hooked me right in.
    Caroline – yours had me wondering about what was happening and what would happen next. I think it works well.
    Kalen – really liked this one – intriguing and made me want to know more.

    Mine is for a PB…

    Without any warning at all, and for no particular reason at all, Meredith the jersey cow quacked moo.

  133. MG Fantasy: Mr. McMichaels has hated me ever since he confiscated a story I wrote during class last week.

    @Tish – I really like this. The idea of counting raindrops is cute and cute it always good with a PB.

    @Mike Robbins Lucky – nice. I want to read on to know what Lucky shouldn’t do. And bear attack area – how could one not want to read on?

    @Kari Young – I love this! There’s a hint of theme there, which is awesome.

    @Kimmy – lol, great!

    @Miles – Nice. The ten count just screams that she has strong emotions right now. I would just slightly reword: Camilla Bradford counted to ten and then walked into the street.

  134. This topic of “first lines” has seriously influenced my thinking. While I had considered the importance of the opening paragraph, I had not looked solely at the first sentence. I believe doing so will greatly improve the opening. However, I think looking only at the first line has the problem of taking it out of context. The first line must feed the second line and cannot really stand alone. Then the second feeds the next, and so forth, until the paragraph is completed. Using what I have learned here, I will continue experimenting with my first line to find the best first line ever written.

    (YA speculative fiction)

    Were it not for me, you, your family, your friends, all of humanity would be dead. My name is Les. I saved the people of Earth from annihilation. This is the story of that war, of that victory.

  135. Melissa M- Your first line does a nice job of capturing the awkwardness of first love. However, this bit about “the day I realized I was a boy” just brings to mind too many questions. He obviously has a profound realization about gender differences and who he is. I see where you’re going but I don’t think you’re quite there yet.

    Amy D- Simple and lovely, it opens up a whole world of possibilities.

    Kayla- Really fun. Immediate tension and the image of Siven smiling while committing an act of violence is chilling.

  136. My critiques–
    Melinda: “His music is too loud–not exactly a problem, except that it’s louder than mine.”
    This is a YA contemporary romance first line that would definitely keep me reading for more. I enjoy good use of tension to make the romance all that much more rewarding in the end. I can just imagine teens with blaring car radios or even iPods blasting music through the earbuds.

    Kathleen: “fingernails feathering”–nice use of alliteration and the fingernails make me think of the nerve-jarring sound of fingernails on the blackboard, an eery sensation. You definitely establish a sense of fear here that fits the genre, and I prepare me for something disturbing, which makes me want to read on.

    R. A.: “He had it coming.” Makes me think of Chicago. Like the song in the musical, your line packs a punch. It immediately slams the reader into the story.

    My first line comes from a YA novel with a sci fi bent that starts in New Orleans and based on the Katrina/Levee Breaks of 2005.
    “Katrina. That bitch.”

  137. My first line for YA Paranormal is:
    My aunt’s contract with Hell ended 325 years ago, but rumor said otherwise and rumor is a difficult thing to shake.

    @ Melissa K – I really liked your first line. It was short, sweet, to the point and caught my interest.

    @ Melissa M – I always have a hard time with dialogue as a first line. It can be done well, but it’s rare. Also, I believe you have some tense issues.

    @ Jayme – I really, really like yours and would easily read further.

  138. Okay, here I go! My first line is from a chapter book.

    “Out of my way!” A group of kindergarteners were standing in the middle of the hallway and I, Dixie Dee, sixth-grade-super-sleuth, was on a mission.

    Miles-I love it! But could you ground the reader with a sense of place? What time of day is it? What kind of street? Is it busy?

    Melinda-I like how you introduce the two characters for the romance right away. I am curious as to what kind of music they like, and how it will shape their relationship.

    Jean-Losing a baby in the woods! That drew me in right away. Great start in my opinion!

  139. I didn’t read what other people commented, so I may repeat some critiques…

    June, While your first line does inspire curiosity, “There is” is a passive way to begin. Try sentences like, “His eyes intrigued me.” or “I could not stop staring at his eyes.” which show action, but still make the reader wonder what it is about the eyes.

    M.W., Nice line. We immediately wonder what happened to the narrator and the home.

    Vera, Using “crashed” and “crashing” is redundant and threw me off immediately. Also, the “up”s are unnecessary. “The water crashed against my skull like waves against a rocky shore.” sounds smoother. The message of the sentence is great though. I think, “Why water crashing on this person’s head” and want to read on.

    Sara B, Your sentence is well-written but doesn’t really pull me into the story.

    John R-H, Good opening. You’ve set the scene for the story, established the MC and the initial problem.

    Leesa, Not bad. I am curious as to why she’s breathing like that. You could add more detail to this though.

    Crystal, Very good. Now I’m thinking, “Vampire? Werewolf? Something else? and why is this person immune?” However, with Vampires and Werewolves being over done lately, people may be turned off.

    Jesse, I’m not sure why the line is in quotes. Is this dialogue or narration? I would change “any” to “every” based on the what I think you’re trying to say.

    Stefanie, I like this one. We immediately see a flaw in the MC and wonder if she’ll do well and become arrogant or fail and learn some humility.

    Caroline, This is different and would keep me reading. The string on the finger is a nice hook.

    Jayme, I had to read this twice for it to make sense because I thought Seven was a number and not a name. You may want to rephrase the line so readers won’t make this mistake. When the first line of a novel doesn’t make sense, it’s off-putting.

    Silvia, The first half of the sentence is great. “Seeing holes in people,” grabs me right away. “She told her mother?” That’s a let down. Just just lost me. Even if she told her mother, you can express that better with more action, anxiety, or fear. “She ran screaming to her mother,” for instance. “She wondered if she was losing her mind,” could work as well.

    Lois, Sorry, but this just doesn’t grab me. Perhaps if you stated what the thing was. If it was a dead body then you’ll definitely grab the reader, but just a big dead thing doesn’t stir much curiosity.

    Gail, Ok that line is just so bizarre I HAVE to keep reading. Well done!

    Lyla, This is good. A soul harvester, and a confident, casual one. If I’m into that genre, I’ll keep reading. My only questioning thought is that, if it’s YA, isn’t this guy a little old?

    Derrick, This feels awkward like you’re missing a verb. “Sitting among the torn wrapping paper and ribbons, Suzy lifted the lid off the box to greet her destiny.”

    Susie F, Funny. I like it and would keep going.

    E. Newmeyer, You’re starting with a passive sentence and telling instead of showing. Why was it miserable? Was it raining? Or was it just because they were burying Eli? Give us some description.

    Stephanie G, As simple as this is, it immediately makes me want to know what happened. Good stuff.

    Beth, Good opening. I immediately want to know why the boy is dying, and I’ll read further to find out.

    Lydia, It’s a good intro to the character through her style of thought. However, I already don’t like from the attitude she has and her smoking.

    Jen M., Honestly, I don’t know what to think of this one. It’s a little random and curious. The junk-food-loving cat throws me, and at this point I can’t see how it’s relevant. If it was’t mentioned I’d probably read on.

    Elizabeth V, We’re missing description here. Listening intently? curiously? It’s just a statement right now. Throw some emotion into it.

    Traci, The sentence is awkward and would stop me right away. A simple fix “A high-pitched wail rises in the night, raising goosebumps on my arms.” but IMO it could be even better.

    jpetrovoy, You state that it’s MG but the MC says “I have never known” and uses “father” instead of “dad,” which seems too mature. “I don’t know my dad’s name,” is more MG level.

    Kurt H, I see what you’re going for and “Cleveland” brings it home, but some readers won’t get past “Once upon a time.”

    Melody, I like this one. We immediately realize that the MC is a criminal and that she’s doing what she really doesn’t want to. Why? I have to read on.

    H.E. Ellis, First of all it’s “tells you about,” not “tell you about.” Lost me there. Putting it aside, it’s very cool. You’re starting with a car crash. Nice.

    Estee, This made me smile. Definitely a good hook. How could a cookie start trouble? I’d read on.

    Kathryn, You show the Bea is not holiest of people, but we don’t know if she’s bad or just misguided yet. It’s good, but I think you can come up with something stronger.

    Heather, You give a great description of the scene, but there’s nothing here about the story or the MC that really pulls us in.

    Naomi, Good. We know the MC is protesting something and is diligent about it since he/she has been at it all day. Now we need to read on to find out what.

    Rachael, Wrong verb usage turned me off immediately. “I had or had been kissed…but still had no…” unless your story is present tense, in which
    case you can’t start with “By September.” Once that’s fixed it’s a good opening, showing desperation in the character for a bf and that she’s probably going about it the wrong way.

    R.A., Simple and effective. Had what coming? I must find out.

    Jeff D, While this does make me wonder what’s on the horizon, I think this could be stronger with either some emotion added or motive.

    Melissa K, I like it. We immediately think, “Why?”

    Shelley, Most people can immediately relate to this line and will keep going. Well done.

    Amy D, Everything comes to life? Yes, I’m reading on.

    Kayla, You’re jumping right in with action, danger, and what seems like a psychotic antagonist. Great opening.

    Melissa M, I think you go on too long here. Ending at “realized I was a boy.” is enough to make the reader go, “Say what?” and keep reading.

    Stephanie Scott, “the undead tour bus.” The what? Must read on.

    Carla, This is a nice intro but starts with a pluralization conflict. “Tuesdays were minefields.”

    Jen, Okay so we know the person is going to China, and the soggy ramen and sister’s video were amusing, but unless we’re personally fans of adventures in China, there is no real pull into the story.

    Serena, This really feels like you’re starting off with telling. It’s a simple statement to which we have no emotional attachment because we don’t no the character yet. Maybe start with the actual death, his/her feelings when it happened.

    Marisa, This is good because of the capitalization of “Date.” We automatically know it’s something more than the word we’ve come to know and read on to find out what.

    Nikki, The first thing I think is, “So?” Did the mountain erupt as a result of the kidnapping? That would be cool, but then you should state it. Is it just a coincidence? Then why mention it? Yes, the kidnapping is a bit intriguing, but the mountain part needs context.

    Kalen, lol! Nice opening. Funny and it sets up the story very nicely.

    Steph F., This is intriguing. I’m wondering what’s going on. Was there just an accident? I’d read on to figure this out, but the next few sentences will be pivotal as to whether I’d continue on.

    Janice S, Creepy. I like it. I’d definitely want to find out what the shadow is up to.

    Mary Ann, This is just a matter-of-fact statement. It tells us about Mrs. Carter’s yard, but not about the MC or the story. I’d probably read to see if the brother stepped in the poop, but then stop.

    christina, I am curious about the pins and needles feeling and would probably read a little more to find out about it.

    Elizabeth, Is that how almost all kids feel on their first day? Yes we can all relate, so some more reading may occur, but the situation is cliché. Also, saying, “she was scared,” is passive and more telling. Describe the fear.

    Kate L, Despite the passive form, the sentence is very intriguing. I need to know about the darkness. Could just be me though, but I’d read on.

    Barbara W, You can’t peep open something. “Mitch peeped into the box’s open lid.” or something like that. I am curious as to what’s in the box though.

    Kait N, Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but this doesn’t interest me at all. Many YA novels deal with the death or loss of a loved one. Also, you said it was paranormal. You may want to hint at this. It feels telling instead of showing right now.

    JessicaL, Aw. Poor Liz. Something bad just happened. I’ll have to read more to find out what.

    Jonathan S, Twisted and amusing. I like it.

    Kathryn, This isn’t bad, but it feels like you could through a “But…” in there.

    Susan Halley, For kids the name and the scene would be very enticing

    melody colleen, Love it! Unexpected and definitely needs further reading.

    Lester, I like it but would throw a “then” in there to make the sentence clearer. “Were it not for me then you…”

    amychristineparker, This is actually two sentences because you can’t wink dialogue. The dialogue alone is enough to make me read on though.

    Kathleen, That made me feel shivers. I’d definitely continue.

    Melinda, I like this because it gives us enough of the attitude of the MC to know him/her a little. I’m curious about what will be done about the music.

    Jean, Great hook. Lost the baby brother?? Nice.

    Joseph Miller, The treasure chest is what hooks the reader. Who doesn’t want to know what’s in a treasure chest?

    Kristin, Girls would probably read on. As a guy, I’d stop there. Nice alliteration btw.

    Ashley E, This is good. I wonder, “Are they playing a game, is someone going undercover or is the person’s name actually going to change?” I guess I’ll have to read on.

    Miles, This doesn’t give us much to go on, unless she’s walking into traffic, but that’s not really clear. She could be walking out of a building. If it’s traffic and you show that then I’d read on.

    Kimmy, lol! Great one. Anytime the line makes be laugh out loud I’ll read on.

    Kari Young, I would read on to see if there a explanation for this first sentence.

    Mike Robbins, Well, of course we have to read on. What the heck is Luck doing?

    Tish, For a picture book, this would work.

    Mine (urban fantasy):

    For the first time in a thousand years, the tribes of both the Light-Elves—the Liosálfar—and the Black-Elves—the Svartálfar—held court together beneath the full moon.

  140. Kathyrn Roberts: Glad if it helped. I cannot tell you how many times I have read and re-read something I wrote and still missed something. Having a second pair of fresh eyes is always good. Sometimes I even want a third pair of eyes!

  141. Lester D. Crawford–
    I think everyone would agree with you. I do. But the purpose of a first line should not be lost. To pique, arouse and invite the reader into the next line, and the next, and so on. Reading Mary’s post about first lines inspires me to think about what makes my first line specific to my novel. Could it be any novel in the world? Or only the first line from my novel? Thinking of first lines, I’m reminded of, “Where’s Pa going with that ax,” which for me is one of the truly greats. I think the purpose of this little contest was to get people thinking about making their own first lines as specific and special to their work alone. It certainly has been good for me.
    “Were it not for me, you, your family, your friends, all of humanity would be dead.”
    Your first line is very dramatic and compelling. I would want to read on.

  142. @Vivian– It’s definitely not vague, and I had it pegged as YA contemporary before going back to check to see if I was right. I’m not completely drawn in, though, and that might just be me. Unless other people have the same hiccups, ignore that me 🙂

    @Kathleen– Definitely spooky, but doesn’t everyone always talking about the hair on the back of the neck when talking about fear? Love that you used “feathering”, though.

    @Melinda– Meh. No one likes having their music drowned out. Common pet peeve. Can’t say I’m intrigued yet.

    The opening sentence of my still very-much-work-in-progress, a YA fantasy: The king was scowling at me.

  143. This is so fun! Thanks, Ms. Kole!

    I’ll post my first line separately and begin with critiques.

    @Kari: “I see acts of kindness all the time and they aren’t random.”
    If I picked up your book, I would have continued reading – your first line really intrigued me! Your first line connected to me on a personal level.

    @Ashley: “‘What do you want your name to be this time?’”
    This is great! I truly love this! It sounds a little “The Giver” – one of my favorite books. Great job.

    @R.A.: “He had it coming.”
    Yours is very short-and-sweet, but I think it’s a little too short to really draw me in. Maybe you could spice it up a little?

  144. The first line to my YA novel: “I knew for certain there was something different about me when I had looked at Finn and saw nothing but woodsy brown. Now, as the consequences of keeping secrets came crashing down, I couldn’t help but hate myself.”

    I would appreciate any feedback you can offer! Thanks!

  145. @…Casandra….I would take out the word “had.” “Woodsy brown” has me wondering what you mean so I want to read further to see what this will be about. Is that your intention? 🙂

  146. @Jean: “Meerkats. That’s the reason I will be forced to give my father for losing my baby brother in the woods.”

    I too was wondering if a word got left out. Or maybe replace
    “reason” with “excuse”? Otherwise I’m wanting to read further to see what happened to the baby! Great job.

  147. @Jean: “Meerkats. That’s the reason I will be forced to give my father for losing my baby brother in the woods.”

    I too was wondering if a word got left out. Or maybe replace
    “reason” with “excuse”? Otherwise I’m wanting to read further to see what happened to the baby! Great job.

  148. @Kirsten I…….“Out of my way!” A group of kindergarteners were standing in the middle of the hallway and I, Dixie Dee, sixth-grade-super-sleuth, was on a mission.

    I have no improvements to add since this is a great first line. Makes we wonder about Dixie Dee and want to read more.

  149. @Kirsten I…….“Out of my way!” A group of kindergarteners were standing in the middle of the hallway and I, Dixie Dee, sixth-grade-super-sleuth, was on a mission.

    I have no improvements to add since this is a great first line. Makes we wonder about Dixie Dee and want to read more.

  150. @Maria- Love it! Would definately move on to the second sentence.

    @Kirsten- I There’s a lot going on here. I would simplify: “I, Dixie Dee, sixth-grade-super-sleuth, was on a mission. I would move the quote and the kindergartners after that. Voice sounds age appropriate. Good luck with your book.

    @Shiraz- I’m not a big fantasy fan, but as fantasy first lines go, I thought this was a good one. I think you could remove “the tribes of both” and make it more succint without losing any of the meaning.

    My first line for contemporary YA: I’ve been planning to kill myself since the day I was born.

  151. Everyone,

    Thanks for your comments on my first sentence.

    Melinda,

    I want to especially thank you for nudging me in the right direction for rewriting the sentence. I agree that it was doing too much a a bit too vague.

    Mary Kole,

    Thanks for this contest, it really helped me revise not only my first sentence, but my entire first page.

    In case you’re interested, here’s the new and hopefully improved first line:

    My hand trembled as I approached the treasure chest’s lock and slipped the antique key into place.

    Question: should it be “the antique key” or “its antique key”?

    Thanks Again,
    Joseph

  152. Everyone,

    Thanks for your comments on my first sentence.

    Melinda,

    I want to especially thank you for nudging me in the right direction for rewriting the sentence. I agree that it was doing too much a a bit too vague.

    Mary Kole,

    Thanks for this contest, it really helped me revise not only my first sentence, but my entire first page.

    In case you’re interested, here’s the new and hopefully improved first line:

    My hand trembled as I slipped the antique key into the treasure chest’s lock.

    Question: should it be “the antique key” or “its antique key”?

    Thanks Again,
    Joseph

  153. Doh! I pressed the send button too soon! The new first sentence is:

    My hand trembled as I slipped the antique key into the treasure chest’s lock.

  154. Here’s my first line of my children’s Christmas fantasy:
    *********************************************

    If you have to awaken into a tree, the best type is a decorated White Pine.

  155. Pages 3 and 4 don’t have a chance at getting as many comments as the first two pages. Here’s my two cents:

    @Vivian–Love this. Funny and all teen angsty at the same time.

    @Jean–Losing a baby brother=great hook. Meerkats for the first word didn’t work for me, though. Maybe put at end of sentence.

    @R.A.–Like but a little generic. Still makes me want to read more. To make it less generic, could you put a short description instead of ‘he’. Like “The pimple-faced geek had it coming.”

    @DRandall–Funny! Since it’s a picture book and you want to use as few words as possible, maybe consider just saying, “My toes woke me up.”

  156. Pages 3 and 4 don’t have a chance at getting as many comments as the first two pages. Here’s my two cents:

    @Vivian–Love this. Funny and all teen angsty at the same time.

    @Jean–Losing a baby brother=great hook. Meerkats for the first word didn’t work for me, though. Maybe put at end of sentence.

    @R.A.–Like but a little generic. Still makes me want to read more. To make it less generic, could you put a short description instead of ‘he’. Like “The pimple-faced geek had it coming.”

    @DRandall–Funny! Since it’s a picture book and you want to use as few words as possible, maybe consider just saying, “My toes woke me up.”

  157. R. A. — “He had it coming.” (nice tone; concise writing. Could be expanded to something like “Jason Burke had it coming to him ever since he spilled chocolate milk on Emma in 6th grade” or something like that, 😉 depending on the genre. I would definitely see if expanding it helps, but since I can’t see it in context, I can’t really say if it would be better to leave it as is.)

    Shiraz — “For the first time in a thousand years, the tribes of both the Light-Elves—the Liosálfar—and the Black-Elves—the Svartálfar—held court together beneath the full moon.” (since you commented on everyone else’s 😉 I figured I’d give yours a go. Leave Liosalfar and Svartalfar out until later maybe, or you risk throwing too much on the reader from the start. These words unnatural to the English reader, which makes things a little bulky 😉

    Joseph Miller — “My hand trembled as I slipped the antique key into the treasure chest’s lock.” (nice! great voice. Maybe try reading it out loud and re-wording so that it sounds better out loud?)

    My line; MG fiction:
    Sometimes, life throws you a curveball; unfortunately, I’m really bad at sports.

  158. Rebecca,

    If you have to awaken into a tree, the best type is a decorated White Pine.

    Interesting first line, definitely makes me want to read more. However, I did stumble over the “into”… perhaps a better word would be “in” or “under” or “in the branches of.” These choices make more sense to me.

  159. Came back here to check comments and I had to critique one more. 🙂

    @Alison Miller – Absolutely LOVED your first line. Very much in keeping with the MG spirit – had some great humor and voice. I would definitely read on and find out more about this character!

  160. Here is the first line of my YA manuscript, MAYBE YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THIS.
    It’s like this, I’ll just come out and tell you: This is the story of how Jake Matthews and I made the eighth grade basketball team, even after one of us got suspended and one of us almost did, how one of the best teachers at our school showed up on the internet and then got pretty much fired, how my best friend for like eight years finally figured out he is really possibly gay, and how I figured out I’m pretty definitely not.

    Thanks for this great opportunity, Mary Kole!

    My comments on others’ first lines:

    Shae-Your first line does make us wonder, which is good. If you could add some action on the narrator’s part, it might be stronger: “I woke up to find the king scowling at me,” for example.

    shellyjc–very provocative! You might add more to the narrator’s voice if you add something like “it seems” in there. That would also make it more believable.

    joseph miller-already improved! Your revision is less wordy and clearer. Do we need the lock? Only if it’s separate from the chest. Is it an antique? That’s different from a beat-up chest or an ancient chest or a seaweed-covered chest. Consider refining that adjective.

    allisonMiller- great first half. What happens if you stick with baseball in the second half rather than widening it to all of sports? Your metaphor might be stronger that way.

    Thanks!
    Susan

  161. Shiraz: Wow. I just have to say, I am completely impressed with your diligence in critiquing so many people. Did you respond to every submission? Personally, I am not even diligent enough to go find out. Nevertheless, I think you deserve a thoughtful critique (or several hundred).

    Your line is highly literate and clearly steeped in the genre, but frankly, I’m on the fence about it. I’ve only read maybe ten contemporary YA urban fantasy books, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt here. I love the fact that something is happening for the first time in a thousand years. It implies action. I’m slightly skeptical about your immediate use of the names of the elf groups. Clearly your word choices are steeped in some linguistic history (good job at that, by the way), but I’ve definitely heard a few editors and agents say that overdoing fantasy terminology too early can be a turn-off for readers (this is hearsay, not firsthand knowledge). Overall, the line has a summary quality to it; it’s more like a topic sentence than the start of a typical novel. Is that necessary here? Possibly it is. But possibly it would be better to switch to a line that uses action rather than just implying action.

  162. Shelleyjc: Such a huge statement I want to read more because my curiosity is buzzing away. So he/she has been aware since birth?–very interesting. I would love to know more about why his/her death has been part of the character’s plans for so long.

  163. Rebecca: I love the specificity of your subject matter. I’m not sure what age level you’re going for, but the subject matter seems good for MG. I’m not sure what it means to “awaken into a tree.” Are you talking about a person waking up as a tree? Or is it more of a realistic thing, with a person waking up in a tree’s branches or under a tree?

  164. @Melissa k…….thanks for your comment! Using this as my first and stand alone line I’m trying to intrigue and entice for just the questions you asked 🙂 but maybe this is not a good thing? 🙁 age group is 9-12 . Thanks again!

  165. This was so much fun, I thought I’d come back and post feedback for those that put their lines up later. I also realized I found it helpful when others posted some context about the original sentence, so I’ll do that too this time. I know there was a different post for finding critique partners, but this thread is definitely making me want to be in a critique group with some of you even if only to find out what happens after these great first lines.  So anyone interested in a critique partner for picture books can email me at kristinchaos at gmail dot com.

    @drandall (waking toes) I am intrigued and would definitely want to know more. I think it might be a little stronger if the “It” were clarified. “The trouble started” or “The adventure started” or whatever is appropriate.

    @Maria (Katrina. That bitch.) It’s interesting how much context can be supplied by the word Katrina. The opening wouldn’t really have clued me in that it was going to be sci-fi if you hadn’t mentioned it though. I’m not sure if that’s important or not. Is there any modifier that makes sense in the story that could be used. For example, if Katrina managed to open a wormhole or something, you could say “That wormhole-opening bitch.” Just to provide some clue about what makes this a sci-fi book. It might not make sense to do this with your story, so just a thought.

    @Renee (contract with Hell) I really like this. It has a nice voice even from the beginning and is intriguing.

    @Kirsten (sixth-grade-super-sleuth) I think the first line definitely says a lot about your character and makes me wonder what the mission is. However, one of the things it says to me is that Dixie Dee is the type of girl who will bully little kids if they’re in her way. I found that off-putting. If that’s not an intentional statement about your character, maybe there is some other way of showing that she is in a hurry and on a mission.

    @Shae (king scowling) This feels a little vague to me. All we know is that this world has a king and that king is unhappy with the MC. Who is the MC and how does he/she feel about the scowling and the king? For example, these 2 sentences set very different tones: “I leaned casually against the marble column as the King scowled at me.” Or “I hid behind my captor as the king scowled at me.”

    @Kari (acts of kindness) I LOVE this first line. If you want a beta reader, let me know, because I really want to read more.

    @Cassandra (woodsy brown) There is a lot going on here and it is interesting enough to want to find out what is going on, but it feels like it’s going to take a lot of work to figure it all out. I wonder if you’re starting the story in the right place. The line “as the consequences of keeping secrets came crashing down” make me thing we are shortly going to jump back in time to explore those kept secrets. So maybe it should start earlier.

    @Rebecca (meerkats). I love meerkats. And I am intrigued by the story concept. The sentence feels a little awkward though. What about something like: “I lost my baby brother in the woods. My dad’s not going to be happy when I blame it on the meerkats.”

    @shelleyjc (planning to kill myself) It’s a good sentence. I’m not sure I’d want to read further now, but I think that may have been different when I was an angtsy teen.

    @Joseph Miller (antique key) You posted a couple a different rewrites close together. I actually preferred the phrasing of “slipping the key into place.” I think lock is redundant. That’s where you put a key and I don’t think it needs to be stated. “My hand trembled as I knelt before the treasure chest and slipped the key into place.” That being said, I wonder if you should back up some. It seems like opening a treasure chest is a momentous occasion that should be the climax of a scene not the beginning. It may not make sense in your story but I kind of feel like some build-up to that would be nice. Maybe you could start with the acquisition of the key?

    @Rebecca (White Pine) I really like the imagery and I am curious about what happens next. I’m confused though as to whether the MC is in a tree or is a tree. My first interpretation was in a tree which might be clearer as: “If you have to wake up as a tree, the best type is a decorated White Pine.”

    @AlisonMiller (curveball) Nice voice. I like it a lot.

    @Vivian (dressed like a hamburger) It made me laugh and that’s always going to get me to want to read further. I like the voice.

    @Kathleen (feathery fear) The image is poetically evocative. I’m torn about it as a first line though. It doesn’t really tell us much about the MC or the setting other than fear is involved. Is the MC causing fear or experiencing it?

    @Sean McMcMahon (man cave) Literally laughed out loud. I would definitely read further.

    @Susannah (Pluck) I like the name Pluck for a chicken. And I like having a brave chicken character.

    @Vanessa (quacked moo) Since conciseness is key for picture books, I’d cut it down. Something like: Without warning, Meredith the cow quacked.

    @Ryan (McLoozer) Is not-McLoozer your MC or is this a name given by your character to someone else? Some clarity on this might help ground the reader.

    @Jacob (unstable family) I’d suggest showing the reader why they are unstable rather than just stating it.

    @Shelley (mother’s mission) I’m torn about this. It has some universality since most people probably feel that way at some time, but I’m not sure it gives your character a unique voice. Can you be more specific? “… to change me into [whatever fits the story]”

    @Amy D. (draws comes to life) I love this and really want to know what happens next.

    This has been fun. If I didn’t comment on someone’s either my thoughts mirrored someone else’s or I just missed it.

    We should do this again some time. 🙂

  166. Thanks Kristin for your advice. Since a few others stumbled over the same word, I’m posting a rewrite.

    ***********************************
    if you have to awaken within a tree, the best type is a decorated White Pine.

    ***********************************
    this rewrite may take away the confusion of “being a tree” or “in a tree.” Thanks to all who advised! This experience was great.

  167. @Kristin…….I found your first line so I could reciprocate your help on my first line.

    ******My first line from a picture book: I’m Zelma Jean and I’m planning a positively perfect party.********

    From this I get the idea that this perfectly planned party is going to be anything BUT perfect. Correct? I love the simplicity and hint of what’s to come 🙂

  168. So, I posted my first line on the first page. Thanks for everyone’s feedback. I started to give critiques on the first page posts, and then realized the last page didn’t have as many so I have some critiques from the first page of posts and the last page. Kinda random. Anyhow, here are my thoughts.

    Sarah B (pg. 1) – I like the color of hair. Makes me think the person is special? I felt confused with the word “anchor.” It was an odd word choice to use for holding a piece of hair down? Maybe I’m just confused. Could. be.

    Jesse (pg. 1) Good catchy line. I did get the feeling that this might be one of those “depressed, bad attitude teen voices” that are starting to wear on me. But, they seems to sell, so who cares what my opinion is. 🙂 I have teenagers that’s probably why that voice wears on me–I hear it everyday.

    Maria (pg. 4)- From the last phrase “louder than mine” I already have a picture of your character in my mind. Great job. The one thing I’d change is not to start with “his” It’s too vague for my tastes.

    drandall (pg. 4) – All I can say is A+. I loved it. Well done.

    Renee (pg. 4) I know you’re using rumor twice on purpose, but I still struggled with it. However, I like the the concept and it got me immediately into the story. Very important.

    Shiraz (pg. 4) – I enjoyed the visual images of two possible enemy nations coming togehter after a millenia. Sounds epic. I did stumbled over the unique fantasy names right off the bat. Felt like a mouthful to me.

    Cassandrea (pg. 4) – You had me hooked until “woodsy brown.” That was a bit too random for me–not within my frame of reference. I’m sure that comes later in the story, but right off the bat it was hard for me.

    Shellyjc (pg 4) – Very interesting. Seems like an impossible thing (to want to committ suicide the day you’re born) so I want to keep reading how that could be possible.

    Rebecca (pg. 4) cute PB idea. I really like your line except for “awaken into.” It felt a little old of a phrase for PB and slightly confusing. I kept trying to think of something to replace it and decided I stink at PB writing cause I had nothing. Keep up the good work!

    Susan (pg. 4) – I liked it. I assume the all in caps phrase was a warning to us bloggers that this was going to be a LONG sentence, but I gotta be honest. I like it as the first line. I know addressing your reader in a book using “you” is a hot topic, but I felt the casual tone of your book might work with that. Anyhow, if you stick with just the long run on, that is great too. I might cut 5-7 words from it. It did feel a little too long.

    Thanks for sharing everyone!

    Lois

  169. @Lois D Brown…..My last comment may have confused you. I was reposting a line from another writer’s post and her’s is a PB. My story is a MG children’s fantasy. 🙂 does that make the line more understandable? I also changed it to….If you have to awaken within a tree, the best type is a decorated White Pine. Thanks for your input!

  170. Rebecca: Thanks for your thoughts on my line!

    I like your revision. Even though it’s minor, it changes the reading experience quite a lot. When I read it before, I felt that I was misunderstanding. I was thinking, Wait, what does this mean? Am I in the real world or a fantasy world? My impulse was to look back at the line again and see if I misread.

    Now I feel more sure that I’m in a fantasy story, and my questions are curiosity questions rather than confusion questions: Why is someone waking up within a tree? And why would s/he “have to”? What choice or circumstance made it happen? My impulse is to keep reading and find out the answers.

  171. Renee (contract with Hell): Thanks for your comments on my line.

    I love your line. It’s funny and specific and could go in great directions. I’d only suggest a minor wording revision. If you condense the wording and eliminate the word “thing,” you’ll have a slightly tighter line.

  172. Mellisa K – Thanks, you’re right it could be tighter and you’re welcome.
    Lois Brown – Thanks to you. I’ll have to give some thought to “rumor.”
    Kristin – Thank you!

    I hope I didn’t miss anyone. This was fun.

  173. Hello.
    This is from my YA story.

    Their feet are only a few inches from my face.
    I hold my breath, move no muscle when the dust blinds my sight and brings my eyes to tears. Dust enters my nose and a spastic twitch goes through my body as I stifle a sneeze. I press my hands and toes hard on the ground and try not to move.
    The crack, crack sounds go farther away, only when I can´t hear them anymore, I breath again.
    Exhausted I lay my cheek against the hard ground. Pebbles and hard clods of earth pierce in my flesh. In my chest, in the soft sides of my arms and on my bare stomach where the shirt was pulled up. Above me the twisted innards of a car.
    Eventually, the pain is too hard to ignore, so I silently slide out from under the car. I lean my back against the wrecked metal. My muscles feel sore as I stretch them.
    My head is too heavy to hold and it slides against the rusty metal. It is one of those models which were made before the Great War. An odd looking Mustang the color of rotten carrots and blown out doors and windows. Almost hundred years old, that thing. Smells like it, too.
    But I´d suffer the smell and anything else if it only ran. Not that I could drive. But after the Great War, only government people were allowed to have cars. Not a piece of junk like this thing but fancy and sleek and fast, with silver shiny colors and … Well, I don´t know what else.

  174. @June: Sounds totally like a romantic YA book. I find it always fascinating when you start with a characteristic line.
    But, anyway, I´d find it better, if you don´t write “his” but “the boys” or “the mans” eyes. Because I think it´s their first meeting and the distance between the boy/man and his is really large at a beginning.

    @M.W.: Reminds me of Goldilocks and the bears. But well, as ever, it sounds like the kind of romantic YA story. I like the way you show the feeling at the beginning. The “homeless” and the “abadoned” tells that this might not be a good story.

    @Vera Soroka: Well, the first sentence tells us not really something about the character but his/her situation. Mhm… the metaphor with the “crashing wave” seems unsuitable because I think the person is UNDER water and not on the surface of the sea/ocean. So there can´t be really waves crashing her skull but the feeling of the water crushing her down. You see what I mean?

  175. Koi,

    I like your first line: Their feet are only a few feet from my face.

    It sparks interest.

    However, when I read further, the story started slowing down. I started skimming. There was too much beating around the bush. You need to get to the point.

    The first line is great.

    The rest needs to be cut down.

    Good luck. 🙂

  176. @M.W.: Thanks. I like the first line, too.
    You´re right. The telling slows down. Never get to an adventure when it´s like this.

  177. Koi, I agree, the first line is perfect in my opinion, but the story slows down from there.

    Rebecca, your first line sounds very cute to me. Like something that I could read to my child, once I have one. And it does make me wonder what will happen afterward, will the day go as planned? And if it doesn’t, how will Zelma deal with it?

    Renee, I think your first line is very interesting, but needs a comma in my opinion. As in: “My aunt’s contract with Hell ended 325 years ago, but rumor said otherwise, and rumor is a difficult thing to shake.” Right after otherwise.

    Hope this helps!

  178. I’m not sure if that’s how I want to start it though. This is the other first line I’ve considered I would use:

    When I was fifteen all I thought about was death.

  179. @Yirssi: Thanks. Yes, you´re right. The story slows immediately down.

    Now to your second first line: I love it.
    It´s a catching first line and you want to – have to- read along! I´m not sure with your first first line but this one´s really cool. 😉

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