Favorite First Sentences
Hello everyone! Today’s post is a very exciting post for me, because today I’m talking about some really great first lines in books. I get to break out my Writing major analysis skills that I don’t use all that often here on this blog, which I’m happy about.
The first line of a book is important. It has to catch the reader’s attention, but also give an insight into what kind of world or character we’re dealing with. A really good first sentence puts the reader solidly into the world of the story, while really bad ones could be what makes the reader decide not to continue reading. Ideally, a first sentence should also be somewhat memorable.
I just spent the past few hours looking up first sentences of some of my favorite books and writing down the ones I wanted to share with you, but the list was starting to get a bit too long, so I decided to stop my search for now. Maybe if it interests you, I can do another post like this someday, but for now, I have 10 first sentences I want to share with you, so let’s just get into it.
“My mother thinks I’m dead.”
–Legend, Marie Lu
This is a great first line on its own—it’s shocking, it immediately makes you want to keep reading, so you can find out why this character’s mother thinks that they are dead. It accomplishes the job of making a first-time reader of the book continue reading.
But even more than that, it gives you an immediate impression of what kind of character you’re reading from. The first thing on his mind is his mother—it lets you know, immediately, that this character is very family-oriented, and in fact, for pretty much the whole book (and, really, the whole trilogy), this character’s main goal is to just keep his family safe. This first line gives you a sense of that, right from the beginning.
Of course, maybe you don’t sense that when you first read the book, but that’s really the beauty of this first line—you can still get something out of it, even on a reread. That’s a rare feat.
“The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.”
–Cinder, Marissa Meyer
Similar to the last one, this first line has a shock factor to it, the way good first lines should. Immediately, you wonder why Cinder has a screw in her ankle. But, also like the last one, it serves a double purpose, though I think this one is a double purpose that the reader can easily recognize the first time they read it. It sets up a little of the world, the reference to the screw in Cinder’s ankle serving as a clue that this book is not set in the modern day.
This is the first book in a four (technically 4.5) book series of sci-fi fairytale retellings called the Lunar Chronicles, where each book is based on a different fairytale, but they all intertwine and work together to tell one larger story. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, especially if you were a part of the online book community a few years ago, when these books were still coming out, because they’re pretty popular, but if you haven’t and that concept sounds at all interesting to you, you should totally check them out.
“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.”
–The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
My love for this line comes mostly from nostalgia—the Percy Jackson series (and, to a lesser extent, the Heroes of Olympus) was for me what Harry Potter was for the generation before me. I grew up reading these books, so this first line in the first book has a special place in my heart. Plus, when I was a kid, I read and reread this book so many times that, at one point in my life, I could recite from memory at least the first couple pages of every chapter in this book (one time my parents tested me). I could probably still recite at least the first page of the first chapter, even now—I just love it so much.
What I love about it, though, is that it puts you into Percy’s head so immediately. His voice rings clear even in this very first line, with the slightly sassy “look” at the beginning. And it raises questions, too—what is he talking about, half-blood? Why is it bad to be one? All these things that make you want to keep reading. The first page and a half of this book is basically nothing but exposition—the main character is literally just telling you who he is, and he also point-blank tells the reader to stop reading, both things that normally would probably be big no-no’s—but here they work because Percy’s voice is so engaging.
Rick Riordan is really good at doing these sorts of attention-grabbers. Most of his books have them, and I could probably put all of them here, but that would be boring and way too long, so I only have one more I want to talk about, and then I’ll move on to other authors.
“The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car.”
–The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan
Once again, this line just puts us directly into Percy’s head and, this time, also directly in the middle of the action. It’s the end of the world, right now, in the book, and you know we’re about to go on a wild ride.
This line isn’t as iconic as the first line of the first book, and it doesn’t make me nostalgic in the same way, but I still love it. I already said a lot of the things I could say about this opener in the last section, so instead of repeating myself, let’s just go to the next quote.
“There is one mirror in my house.”
–Divergent, Veronica Roth
This line is beautiful in its simplicity. In a way, it’s kind of the opposite of some of the things I’ve said about other first lines on this list: it’s not shocking or even particularly memorable, nor does it give much of an insight into the plot—unless you want to get really deep and analytical.
What it does do, however, is introduce the world of the book, and perhaps less so the character. First, on a more surface level, it may or may not be surprising that a house only has one mirror, so that gives an insight into the kind of self-effacing world Tris lives in as a part of Abnegation. Deeper than that, though, just the simplicity of the phrase itself reflects the kind of simple lifestyle that the people in Tris’s faction try to follow.
Maybe I’m getting a little too deep, but I think it’s really interesting to see all the ways that a first line can reflect on or foreshadow the rest of the story, even if some of those ways weren’t necessarily intended by the author.
“I stalked my enemy carefully through the cavern.”
–Skyward, Brandon Sanderson
Ah, it’s my fave, Brandon Sanderson. I like this line for one of the same reasons I like Rick Riordan’s opening lines: it really lets the point of view character’s voice shine through. I think maybe that has less to do with the authors and more to do with the fact that both books are written in first person, meaning character voice is naturally a lot more evident anyway, but still, there are a lot of ways this sentence could have been written that don’t so clearly show you Spensa’s penchant for the dramatic and violent. The “enemy” she is stalking in this line is revealed, a few sentences later, to just be a rat she was hunting, but she makes it sound like something much grander than that.
Choosing this line might technically have been cheating, since this book has a prologue, and this line is not the first line from that, but the first line from the actual first chapter of the book. I still like it, though, so I’m going with it. The next line on this list is like that, too.
“Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”
–Elantris, Brandon Sanderson
This one might be my favorite of all the lines I have today—if not, it’s certainly very near that. It has the shock factor that a lot of good first lines have, with just a touch of dramatic irony thrown in for good measure. It establishes character and location in one fell swoop, and also establishes that this world is a fantasy world—if nothing else, we know just based on the names that it’s probably not a place anywhere on the Earth we know today.
Something else that makes me like this sentence is that, at least for me, there’s a bit of humor in the matter-of-fact way it says Raoden has been damned. Or maybe humor isn’t the right word, but the phrasing is definitely something that catches your—or at least my—attention. It’s not long or dramatic, just a simple statement that somehow makes the content even more shocking than if the sentence were long and dramatic.
“There were thirty-six steps between Emory’s bedroom window and mine.”
–Little Do We Know, Tamara Ireland Stone
I love this line because it introduces you to the main conflict of the whole book—two former best friends who have recently become estranged. Even though when you first read this line, you don’t know who Emory is or why this is an important person in the character’s life, you know immediately there’s a conflict there.
It’s also such a weird, random fact that it catches your attention. Why are those thirty-six steps relevant to the story? You don’t know, but you want to find out.
“My big brother reaches home in the dark hours before dawn, when even ghosts take their rest.”
–An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir
I like this first line mostly because it strikes me as incredibly poetic. As you’ve seen on the rest of this list, the first lines I tend to like are simpler and not as flowery, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a beautiful sentence, like this one. This is one of those examples.
“Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
–The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon
This is from the prologue of The Sun is Also a Star. I love it because of how random it feels, and yet it works so well with the story. I also like how it’s slightly educational, in a kind of roundabout way.
Plus, any first sentence that mentions food is good in my mind.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got for this post today! Let me know down in the comments what your favorite first lines are, or if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today!
Thanks for reading!