I know I can't really start writing until I know what it is, and if I start writing before I know what it is, everything's a mess. Because the first line sets up the tone, introduces the character and the character's voice, introduces you to the setting, and also, usually, serves as the first bit of exposition. It's a powerhouse all in a handful of words.
And a good first line is memorable. A first time hooks you and pulls you into the story with a hundred questions of why? and what? and fingers grabbing for more. Those lines that make you turn the page...
We all have our favorites:
Call me Ishmael. (not my favorite, btw)
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I am an invisible man.
124 was spiteful. (maybe my favorite)
All this happened, more or less.
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. (no, wait. THIS is my favorite)
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. (dammit, this one's good, too)
You better not never tell nobody but God. (ahhhh!!! Can't. Pick. Just. One.)
You probably recognize quite a few, right? These all come from classic literature. But great first lines aren't just for the classics:
I am a coward. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told that she would kill her true love. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I am Josephine Darly, and I intend to live forever. Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton
Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The list could go on and on... And on and on some more.
I'm designating Fridays for first lines here on this blog, and I have an amazing lineup of writers who are going to be sharing their first lines from their first book and their favorite first lines of all time:
Be sure to check back on Fridays to see what these authors have in store. And be sure to leave a comment and tell me what your favorite first line is... I'm always up for some inspiration.