Thursday, November 10, 2005

First Lines

First lines are the most important lines in the story. Here are some of mine from stories and books I've sold:

There were four black and whites already at the 7-Eleven when I arrived. -- WHISKEY SOUR

"It would be so easy to kill you while you sleep." -- BLOODY MARY

The sound begins. Again. -- RUSTY NAIL

No security cameras this time, but he still has to be careful. --DIRTY MARTINI

"She sure bled a lot." -- ON THE ROCKS

"His skull is shattered and his spinal column looks like a dutch pretzel." -- WITH A TWIST

Mitch couldn't answer me with the barrel of my gun in his mouth, so I pulled it out. -- STREET MUSIC

"I want you to kill the man that my husband hired to kill the man that I hired to kill my husband." -- TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS

The woman twisting the tube into my penis has cold hands. -- FORGIVENESS

"That's gotta be where the money is." -- THE SHED

Hudson closed his eyes and swallowed hard, trying to stop sweating. -- THE AGREEMENT

There's an art to getting your ass kicked. -- EPITAPH

"I want you to kill my wife." -- SUFFER

"Let me get this straight--you want me to murder you tonight?" -- REDUX

"Eat it." -- FINICKY EATER

The mark knelt next to a garbage can, two hands unsuccessfully trying to plug nine holes in his face, neck, and upper body. -- LIGHT DRIZZLE

"No thanks." -- THE BAG

Rust from the crowbar flaked off, coating my palm with orange dust. -- BASKET CASE

Voice Module 195567 Record Mode: Is this thing working? -- SYMBIOS

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Some are stronger than others. Why? What makes a first line good or bad?

Feel free to post some of your favorites.

43 comments:

Bret said...

I've never actually killed anybody before, murdered another person, snuffed out another human being.
--Donald Westlake/The Ax

Stacey Cochran said...

This is from my soon-to-be-published novel Amber Page and the Legend of the Coral Stone (pub. date Nov. 23)

"The gunmen were in a black Chevrolet Suburban."

Simple, direct, a promise of things to come.

Capt said...

"It’s a strange feeling when you get away with something and nobody knows it." (a novel I'm currenly working on)

Capt.

Anonymous said...

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Susan said...

Ah, they were the best of lines, they were the worst of lines...

Nicholas Colt said...
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Iain said...

Kingsley Amis once said to his son Martin Amis 'I'm never going to read another novel that doesn't begin with the words, 'A shot rang out.' ... I prefer: "Murder didn't mean much to raven. it was just a new job" - This Gun for Hire - Graham Greene

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Well, I'll throw in mine from A MEASURE OF DARKNESS:

It all started when the pregnant girl went crazy.

PJ Parrish said...

Having a good opening line is fine and dandy, but give me a great opening paragraph -- or chapter -- any day. It isn't that tough to come up with one zinger, and too often I read a snazzy opening line and things go downhill fast. Kinda like pickup lines in bars. I like guys who can...uh, sustain their talent over the long haul.

Jim Winter said...

"Sandy Lapinski lay naked in her bed."

Northcoast Shakedown

Rob Gregory Browne said...

LOL, PJ. But be careful. Sustain is a scary word for most guys.

Russel said...

I'm with you PJ, in that I do prefer opening paragraphs. If we're looking for lines, I'm not sure if they come much better than: "Jackie Brown, at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns." from The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

In terms of paragraphs, I think PKD's ability to intrigue us with his, uh, unique take on the world pulls you into his best (in my humble opinon) mainstream novel, Confessions of a Crap Artist: "I am made out of water. You wouldn't know it because I have it bound in. My friends are made out of water, too. All of them. The problem for us is that not only do we have to walk around without being absorbed by the ground, but we also have to earn our livings."

Anne Merril said...

I have to say, that paragraph of Koontz's is truly awful.

Which just goes to show that the line won't sell the book.

I'm with PJ and Russel - the first page is more important than the first line.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Rob Gregory Browne said...

I guess I'm turning into the Koontz apologist here, but I see nothing at all wrong with that sentence. It works for me.

Anne Merril said...

The "Little did Tommy know, but his life was about to change forever" beginnings just leave me cold. Maybe it's a result of seeing it used in too many bad sci-fi stories. Maybe I just feel it's too kitsch. "Before having 3 horrible things happen to him, Johnny went to K-Mart and bought a hankie".

It doesn't work for me. I never said it was wrong, but, well, yuck. Definitely doesn't float my boat.

Mind you, if we all liked the same thing, the bookshelves would be a lot thinner.

Anne Merril said...

Just an addendum, out of the list that JA has put up, I click with the beginning of Bloody Mary, On the Rocks, Street Music, Redux, Light Drizzle and Basket Case.

The beginning of Rusty Nail and Taken to the Cleaners made me gack.

What does this mean? It means that I like some and not others. Nothing more.

I'm going to have to peruse the bookshelves when I get home though; you've piqued my interest!

PJ Parrish said...

I thought I was the only one here who didn't like that Koontz opener. I side with Anne. Its backward -- dare I say, gimmicky -- construction pulled me straight out of the moment.

But whatever floats your boat, right?

Nicholas Colt said...
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PJ Parrish said...

Out of curiosity, I started opening stuff on my shelf to troll for opening lines. Love this one:

She crossed her legs carefully, like she was in love with them, and maybe she was.

It's from an old pulp paperback called "Walk Softly, Witch" by Carter Brown. I collect these things. The copy about the book sez: "Introducing Danny Boyd, a PI who takes his whiskey straight, his women curvy and murder...in his stride."

You gotta love it.

Anne Merril said...

Oh my gosh, pulp detective fiction, especially the gritty, sepia-wash stuff, is absolutely the best junk food you can indulge in. 98% fat free! (Wine not included).

That first line really sets up a mood. Maybe that's what is more important; that your first line puts the reader in the right frame of mind for the rest of the story?

Nicholas Colt said...
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M. G. Tarquini said...

Here's one I wrote:

“First ensure your victim is dead.”

From a short story titled Making Squid.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Jeff said...

One of my opening lines:

Carmen decided murder rather than suicide was a better solution.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Nicholas Colt said...
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Anne Merril said...

An interesting selection of first lines from famous sci-fi:

In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul. Dune - Frank Herbert.

The Volcano that had reared Taratua up from the Pacific depths had been sleeping now for half a million years. Yet in a little while, thought Reinhold, the island would be bathed in fires fiercer than any that had attended its birth. Childhood's end, Arthur C Clark

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. War of the Worlds, HG Wells.

Same type of opening. You can see why I'm jaded :)

Martel said...

Favorite first lines from some of my short stories...

"I might be a whore, but I don't f**k scumbags."


I enoyed being raped, at least that's what Victor told me.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Nicholas Colt said...
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Martel said...

To Jude:

Thank you for the kind comment. I am trying hard to do both of the things you've suggested. All I need now is the patience to keep at it.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Rob Gregory Browne said...

Carter Brown! Also known as Alan Yates. I've got a couple of his books around here somewhere. I'd forgotten all about them.

Pat Mullan said...

..here's a good opener from Ken Bruen's THE HACKMAN BLUES:

"BRADY'S BAD FUCKED. I wrote it on the bedroom wall in yellow day-glo marker."

Lori Armstrong said...

Summer, that vicious green bitch, flexed her sweaty muscles and flattened Innocence, Mississippi.

Nora Roberts, Carnal Innocence.

Hey, and since everyone else is doing it, here's the first line from my novel, Blood Ties:

Death has nipped at my heels like a disobedient dog since I was fourteen.

Susan said...

Jude,

You asked where to find old pulp fiction. FYI, this is where:

http://www.kayobooks.com/

I'm fortunate enought to be able to pop in whenever I want. If you're ever in the Bay Area, check it out. It's a lovely store and an amazing collection.

Best,

Susan

Nicholas Colt said...
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Stuart MacBride said...

"There's nothing quite like the smell of dead children."

Styx and Stones

M.J. said...

Oh Joe this totally cracked me up:

The woman twisting the tube into my penis has cold hands. -- FORGIVENESS

And I'm with PJ - give me a paragraph not a line.

Bill said...

"Death was driving an emerald-green Lexus." From Dean Koontz's novel Winter Moon.

I read this line, closed the book and walked up to the cash registers to pay. (This was like 10 years ago or so, still remember it so clearly)

flbreezes said...

Oh, no, no, no, thought Clara Morrow as she walked toward the closed doors.

First line from "A Trick of the Light" by Louise Penny
--Sandy (Author in Progress)

Michael R pdx said...

what? How could you leave out the opening line to Shot of Tequila?

"Winter meant death in Chicago."