The first lines of books are great, aren’t they? They’re part of what helps you decide if you want to read a book or not. I’ve definitely decided to buy a book just because the first line hooked me and I had to know how the story ended. So we’ll be talking about first lines a lot–starting with Collateral Damage by Lynette Eason.
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Why We’re Talking About Great First Lines
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Haven’t you ever wanted to know how some authors always have the perfect first line? How do they know what works and what doesn’t? To figure it out, I’ve decided to start a mini-series on this blog. It will focus on the first few lines of a novel in an attempt to figure out how to write a great first line.
At first, I thought about focusing on the iconic first lines or at least lines that stuck out for me. But why stop there?
I’ve decided to share the first lines of all the books I read this year (at least all the fiction ones…who knows? Maybe I’ll throw in a couple of the nonfiction ones as well).
The First Line of Collateral Damage
The first book I read this year was Collateral Damage by Lynette Eason. Collateral Damage is about two retired army personnel who got caught up in a lot of drama after they went home. These were the first lines in the book:
Sergeant First Class Asher James stared at Captain Phillip Newell, sure that he’d heard wrong. “Sir? Isaiah Michaels? He’s in sick hall.”
Okay, so technically these are the first two sentences, but let’s talk about what makes these first few lines so great.
According to Save the Cat standards, the character who first appears onscreen (or on the page) is the one who has the greatest character arc and experiences the greatest change over the course of the story.The character who first appears on the page is the one who experiences the greatest change over the course of the story. #savethecat #aminatacoote Click To Tweet
The author sets up Asher James as the person who needs the most help and who will essentially have the deepest character arc. This impression is cemented a few chapters later when we see him seeking psychiatric help.
These first lines also introduce us to three characters and whet our curiosity about why they appear in the book.
- Who is Isaiah Michaels?
- What did the captain say about him to garner that response?
- Why is his location important?
- Is he where they think he is?
- How will this play out in the story?
- What is Asher’s connection to Isaiah?
We learn a few things about our characters as well.
Asher James is a Sergeant First Class. If you’re as unfamiliar with military ranks as I am, Google will tell you that a Sergeant First Class typically leads a battalion and is a non commissioned rank that’s kind of difficult to attain.
This tells us our character is a leader and that he got his position through hard work and determination (okay, maybe I’m reading a little deep).
We know the Captain told him something he found difficult to believe and that it had to do with Isaiah.
These first lines also hint to Isaiah’s character. Whatever (we can assume bad thing) he has done, Asher doesn’t believe it.
This again hints at a relationship between Asher and Isaiah. Asher feels that what he knows about Isaiah contradicts whatever his captain told him.
How the First Lines of Collateral Damage Affect Your Story
You can learn a lot by analyzing the first lines of Collateral Damage. When you’re writing your story, you need to ask a few questions.
- Which character has the greatest change over the course of the story?
- What action can they be involved in to give the reader a glimpse of their personality and character?
- How will they relate to the other characters in the novel/story?
Once you have the answer to the questions above, you can begin crafting a line that will hint at or showcase your story. And maybe one day, someone will be quoting the words of your first line as an iconic piece of literature.
What Collateral Damage Teaches About Writing a Great First Line
By reverse-engineering the first lines of Collateral Damage, we learn that our first lines can build-up to the story we want to tell. I’ve heard writers say the first line that we read in their book is sometimes the last thing they wrote. Obviously, they started with something but they didn’t stop there.
But I really saw it played out in this book. Once I had read the entire novel, I appreciated the masterful storytelling in those first two lines even more.
Don’t spend an endless amount of time trying to perfect the first line when you just start writing your book.Don't spend an endless amount of time trying to perfect the first line when you just start writing your book. #writingtip #aminatacoote Click To Tweet
The first draft is about getting the story out, not about getting it perfect. But while you’re writing the story, think about the first lines you’re going to use to get your reader interested.
Wow! These first lines say a lot, don’t they? Share the first few lines of your work in progress and let’s see what we can learn about your character and your story.
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