Friday, 8 April 2011

First lines

I'm supposed to be starting my new novel.

OK, so I haven't finished the current work in progress. What are you, my mother?

So this new one has a plot, characters, location, framework... and what it needs now is a first line.

It just so happens that the deadline is this week for the annual Little Lytton contest - which looks for 'hilariously bad' first lines of imaginary novels.

Here's a fine example from the instigator:

Jennifer stood there, quietly ovulating. Adam Cadre

Here's what he says about it: 'The non-action of "stood," the vagueness of "there," the involuntary process of ovulation treated as an activity, the inappropriateness of mentioning the volume of that non-activity, the uncomfortably gynecological detail of mentioning it at all — all combine to make a cringeworthy sentence.'

Here are some of last year's winning entries:

This is a story about a racist hero who dies at the end, probably painfully since he’ll get shot in the face.

This is a mystery about a murder I committed.

Zandor stood in the doorway, raking the onlooking crowd with the hot coals of his eyes.

Reading these has inspired me to look up the first lines of some of my own work. So here are some dodgy openings from some of my (unpublished works):

When you’re a down-at-heal astronaut, you’re about as low as you can get.

Even through the bandages, the cold must have been biting.

It was as good as being dead. No, not that good

I wonder why they're unpublished? The last two were alternate first lines for my only completed novel - a tale of trauma, changed identity, tortured relationships and redemption that I first started when I was 13, completed in 2003 and is currently 'under the bed'.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the first lines of my nearly complete work in progress - a tale of local authority planning officers, root vegetables and the undead are:

Always wear your best pants. Your mother was right. You may have an accident.

So, I'd better get on with it... but do share your favourite first lines in the comments... or share the most toe-curling one you have come up with yourself.

To help: American Book review came up with this list of Top 100 First Lines of Novels


  1. Have just looked at my files. My unfinished novels start like this:

    'The grandfather clock, tipped against the wall at a distressing angle, chimed thirteen.' [Echoes of 1984?]

    'The weak autumn light seemed unable to make the steel of the blade shine.'

    'I woke feeling refreshed and bright – which should have alerted me to the fact that something was wrong.'

    'This was doing him no good.'

    My one published book has this opening sentence: 'There has never been much publicity about the activities of women preachers in early Methodism.' You can see why it became a best-seller.

  2. Dave - those lines get steadily better... excluding the published one, of course!

  3. I'd forgotten my online real-time novel (which has had writer's block for two years now):

    First sentence, depending where you start, is either:

    'This isn’t a conventional blog.'


    'This is really a desperate throw, but I hope if I start posting details here, with some of the key words that the team will recognise, maybe they'll be picked up on a search engine.'

  4. The first line of my contribution to the Barbara Cartland genre does not appear to have survived, but what remains is not altogether devoid of stylistic interest.

  5. Dave - hmmm... First sentence is usually at the beginning... which is often where I start, non?

    Philip - Now I know where Tony & Cherie Blair got it from! But what of your real novels, sir? I note you have whipped another one out?

  6. Ah, but where does a blog-novel begin - the first post, which is miles away at the end, or the latest? Eh?