Writing Prompt: The Best First Line

Written by Emily Harstone | December 12, 2013

A really silly first line will stop me from reading the rest of the book, and a really good first line will prompt me to take the book up to the cash register. Because of this I have always put a lot of effort into my first lines. A good first line tends to lead to a good first page, and a good first page tends to lead to a good first chapter, and so on and so forth.

One of the ways I generate first lines is by picturing the story I have in mind and then reading a couple of my favorite first lines. After I review my favorite lines I set a timer for ten minutes. In those ten minutes I focus on writing as many first lines as I can. After the ten minutes are over I take a break and then review the lines, removing and refining my favorite first line.

This is our writing prompt for today, but in case you don’t have any of your favorite first lines handy I have included some of my favorite first lines below, to get you started.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” —Gabriel García Márquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude

“It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” —Paul Auster, City of Glass

“In M—, an important town in northern Italy, the widowed Marquise of O—, a lady of unblemished reputation and the mother of several well-brought-up children, inserted the following announcement in the newspapers: that she had, without knowledge of the cause, come to find herself in a certain situation; that she would like the father of the child she was expecting to disclose his identity to her; and that she was resolved, out of consideration for her family, to marry him.” Henrich Von Kliest, The Marquise of O-
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, 1984
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” —William Gibson, Neuromancer