Home / Genre / The Starting Line: First Lines, First Pages / Great and Not-So-Great First Lines, Part 1

Great and Not-So-Great First Lines, Part 1

A great first line grabs our attention, stirs our hearts, and intrigues our curiosity. Here are some examples of great first lines from novels and non-fiction books. Reading fiction spurs my imagination to think outside the box and create intriguing first lines for my Bible studies and blog. See if these first lines would make you want to read these books.

Fiction:                                                                                

Candle in the Darkness by Lynn Austin: “The first scream jolted me awake.”

Measure of a Man by Susan May Warren: “Peter Samuelson leaned his forehead against the elevator doors, peered through the crack, and prayed for a savior.”

Dauntless by Dina Sleiman: “I am air. I am wind. I am stealthy like a cat. A wild lynx of the forest.”

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti: Late on a full-mooned Sunday night, the two figures in work clothes appeared on Highway 27, just outside the small college town of Ashton.”

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Non-fiction:

Fighting Fear by Edie Melson: War is a part of life.”

Reclaiming Surrendered Ground by Jim Logan: The first recorded attack of Satan was upon the family, and as the twentieth century comes to a close, Satan is still attacking the family.”

Confronting Casual Christianity by Charles F. Stanley: “Several years ago an ‘Apathy Club’ was formed on a certain college campus.”

Traveling Light by Max Lucado: “I’ve never been one to travel light.”

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The great lines from the fiction books grabbed my attention. I wanted to know who screamed and why in A Candle in the Darkness, and why this guy Peter was peering through elevators doors and praying for a savior in Measure of a Man. My help-button was pushed because someone screamed in the first book, and my heart was moved by Dina Sleiman’s poetic beginning to Dauntless. My curiosity was triggered by the two figures in Frank Peretti’s book, and I wanted to read on to see what happened.

In the non-fiction set, Edie Melson brought my attention to a hard reality—war is a part of life. In Reclaiming Surrendered Ground, Jim Logan identified the source of so many struggles in our families and society today—Satan attacks families. Charles Stanley started his book with an intriguing fact—an Apathy Club was formed on a college campus. Max Lucado began with a fact that many of us can relate to—he never travels light—and made me wonder how it related to spiritual things. Great first lines invite us to read further.

Study the first lines of your favorite books,  and notice what the authors used to motivate you to read on. In non-fiction books, see how they grabbed your attention or stirred your heart. Do they state a hard reality that we all need to know how to handle? Do they present a problem, and then give hope? Do they create a sense of mystery? Do they begin with a story that is worded in such a way that your curiosity won’t let you put the book down?

Based on some examples of great first lines, write your own first lines, and try them out on family and friends. See if they think the line is attention-grabbing or boring, snazzy or sleepy. Then try the lines on someone who is a little more objective, like a fellow writer or two. They may have more of a critical eye than those who are closest to you. Don’t be afraid to share your work and see it from someone else’s point of view. Writing is a process, and rarely—if ever!—do we create the perfect line the first time.

Next time I will share Part 2—examples of not-so-great first lines and why they don’t work well. They will be missing one of our three keys. See Three Keys for A Powerful First Line for more about the three keys. Part 2 will help us to figure out which key was needed.

In the comments below, let’s write some first lines, and discuss them. I will start, and please comment about whether you think it would grab the reader’s attention. You could also quote the first sentence of some of your favorite books, and we can talk about them. And remember…

Grab their attention. Stir their hearts. Intrigue their curiosity.

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7 comments

  1. Great article, Katy. I’m so honored that you used my book. But I must confess, I absolutely love those first lines as well 🙂 I’m always in awe that I wrote them. I’m sure the Holy Spirit had something to do with them too.

  2. A.D. Shrum - Storyworld Columnist
    A.D. Shrum - Storyworld Columnist

    “I always get the shakes before a drop.” Great opening line to Robert Heinlein’s incredible Starship Troopers (not to be confused with the film’s B-movie quality).

    • Katy Kauffman - Writing Captivating Nonfiction/The Starting Line: First Lines, First Pages

      Thank you for being the first one to comment with a first line, A. D. I forgot to! I love that first line from Starship Troopers. I haven’t read the novel, but that line makes me want to. It uses an unusual phrase – get the shakes – and intrigues your curiosity. What drop? Are they landing somewhere or dumping something? It makes you feel what the protagonist is going through. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Katy Kauffman - Writing Captivating Nonfiction/The Starting Line: First Lines, First Pages

    Another great first line: “‘Take off your shoes and run,’ the security officer called to me.”

    This first line is found in Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan. I bought the book, but haven’t read it yet. The line comes from a story that talks about how a former White House Deputy Director needed to run to safety on 9/11. Wouldn’t that line make you want to read her story?

  4. Cherrilynn Bisbano - Associate Editor A3
    Cherrilynn Bisbano - Write With You: Magazine and Article Writing

    Great post, my friend. My friend, Lisa Belcastro’s book, “A Dream for Love” has a great opening line too. “Sold!” the auctioneer smacked the gavel on the sound block. I wanted to immediately know what the person bought.
    There are many great first lines…there are many bad ones too.
    Thank you for writing this.

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