Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Great First Lines

Great First Lines.
by Sue Berger

I have seen the slush piles. I once visited Joseph Papp’s office. (Joseph Papp was the producer of the New York Public Theatre and the New York Shakespeare Festival.) There were at least 15 piles of scripts stack four feet high. One pile bore the label “These writers should be strung up by their thumbs and forced never to write again.”

I have never been in an editor’s office, but I have heard the slush piles are similar to the Papp Office.

There are thousands of writers submitting daily to a limited number of editors and agents. If you do not capture them in the first paragraph, you are slush.

I spend a lot of time looking at other writer’s first lines. The following lines and paragraphs from the New York Times Best Seller “Picture Book list” and “Chapter Book list.”
“We are the children of Korphe. We live in a village in the mountains of Pakistan. Our families grow and gather the food we eat.”

“It was the first day of School and Cassie laid out her back-to-school supplies”

“The best day of my life happen when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I am sixteen now so you can imagine that left me with quite a few days of major suckage. “

“Every night people left books in the return box in the small town of Spencer, Indiana. Funny books, big books, truck books, pig books – they left them all. But one night, on the coldest night of the year, someone left a strange surprise…A kitten.”

“It was Spring and all the snow had melted.”

“I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves. “

“Skippyjon Jones was nuts about Mars…”

"Archie was in the front yard in New Orleans playing with his three sons: Cooper, Peyton, and Eli. It was Peyton’s turn at their favorite game, Amazing Catches."

“Robot Zot. Wham Bot! Robot Zot. Bam Bot!”

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course she did. This is the day of the reaping.”

“I was putting flowers on the mane of my pet unicorn.”

“At the end of the Century before last, in the market square in the city of Bahese, there stood a boy with a hat on his head and a coin in his hand.”

“A poem by Eden Streit
Eyes Tell Stories
But do they know how
to craft fiction? Do
they know how to spin
“There was once a friendly little tractor. His name was Otis and every day Otis and his farmer worked together taking care of the farm they called home.”
"There was a boy called Odd and there was nothing strange or unusual about that, not in that time or place. Odd meant the tip of a blade and it was a lucky name.”
“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.”

“Jonah was falling, tumbling over and over, down and down through nothingness and absence and void.”
Every one of these lines sold a book. Which of these makes you want to read them? Next week I will put up this list with the authors and titles. I will be putting up new first lines every week. I will start with my favorites. Feel free to send me yours.


  1. I like the hand in the darkness one, the one set in Pakistan and the one w/the person lying in the snow. It'll be interesting to see which books these are . . .

  2. Great post. This is my favorite.
    “Jonah was falling, tumbling over and over, down and down through nothingness and absence and void.”


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