Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Favorite First Lines

When someone asked me for an example of a well-built world done through showing not telling, the first book I thought was Divergent -- how those first few pages were absolutely wonderful in crafting a picture of the world Veronica Roth created. I started to think about lines like this and other first paragraphs, and how they can make all the world's difference in setting a reader's expectations. I thought I could share some of my favorites with you guys and hope that, in turn, you guys would share some with me.

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth:
"There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding window in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair."
  • Even before we learn that Beatrice is from the selfless faction, we get hints of what that faction might be like:  one mirror, behind a sliding door (as if hidden for the rest of year? Or perhaps to discourage wantonness?), a very, very specific time for when she is allowed to look at it--and only the time when it is necessary, i.e. cutting her hair.  With three sentences, Veronica Roth has already established a strict world/faction that does not seem to tolerate vanity. They are little details, but they're concrete things we can point to about Abnegation. Also, Roth sets a repressive tone that's appropriate for the start of a dystopian novel as filled with violence as hers is... and yet there's also a quiet contemplation - the distance in Beatrice's voice as she lists these facts - that, perhaps, is reflective of the observations Roth will later make on human nature.

2. Fire by Kristin Cashore:
"It did not surprise Fire that the man in the forest shot her. What surprised her was that he shot her by accident."
  • On the most simple level, it sets (the mood and tone for the entire book and) the stage for the following scene and catches your attention right off the bat. I also think that this says a lot about Fire. It's more than just her struggles, which you know will be plentiful if men attack her enough that it's become commonplace. It's also that Fire has this sort of conciliatory tone -- instead of bellowing with anger at the way she's been treated, instead of thinking about herself/dwelling on her pain, instead of plotting revenge, her reaction is that of surprise (and of course defense). This establishes a point of comparison for Fire's character development and later self-acceptance.

3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor:
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."
  • One: the fairy tale quality, which adds enough lightness, I think, to enhance the potency of the tragedy inherent in the second sentence. I particularly love how Laini Taylor managed to introduce the tragedy aspect with such a simple sentence. There's also something about stating that it's a story focusing on "an angel and a devil" that makes it hold more weight, if that makes sense. You know that things are really not that simple, that black and white, especially in a tragedy. Bravo to Laini Taylor for achieving so much with so few words.

I have a lot more than those three, but I didn't want to make this too long of a post ;). What are some of your favorite first lines, and why do you like them?

10 comments:

  1. My favorite would have to be Fire's. I love lots of action in danger in a character's life, and that line gives the message to read more.

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  2. I love this post! I always try to include first lines in my reviews. Some of my favorite opening lines are from Maggie Stiefvater books:

    "It's the first day of November and so, today, someone will die."

    - The Scorpio Races

    "Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told that she would kill her true love."

    - The Raven Boys

    I read an article Steifvater wrote talking about how important she thinks first lines can be and I've always remembered it.

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  3. I think the Daughter of Smoke and Bone first line is my favourite. Everything about it is just WOW. :)

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  4. I never gave much attention in the first lines, so I can not remember any. But among those here I like most of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

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  5. I LOVE the last line! It reminds me of fairytales and that's my favorite thing to read. Great :D And the opening line from Divergent is also great.

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  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you - those books are among my favourites I love them. Great post!

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  7. I loved Divergent first lines too!
    Also I absolutely adored the start of The Night Circus:

    "The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not."

    I haven't read Daughter of Smoke and Bone yet, but these first lines definitely made me grab it! :D

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  8. This book sound amazing, I really want to read it.
    Thanks for this post

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  9. I didn't really think about the first lines of Daughter of Smoke and Bone (which I'm actually still in middle of and loving) or Fire that much, but you're so right. They're very intense.
    I have so many favorites, I don't even know which one to pick. Glancing over my bookcase:
    "It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure."
    Opening line of Delirium, totally sets the stage. :)

    Fantastic choices, once again!

    ~Riv Re
    Riv Reads

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  10. Oohh, I love your choices! (Note to self: Read Fire)

    I love the first lines of Good Omens (Neil Gaiman&Terry Pratchett)

    "It was a nice day.
    All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn't
    been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one."

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