by Libby Hellmann
Over the summer The Outfit (Michael, Marcus, Kevin, and I) conducted crime writing workshops for teenagers and adults in a program sponsored by the Chicago Public Library. I think we were all blown away by the talent of the kids: their imagination, fearlessness, and an innate understanding of suspense.
One of my favorite parts of those writing workshops – in fact, of any writing workshop -- is first lines. As writers, we know the first line should hook the reader. We also know it’s better to start “in media res,” in the middle of things. I often can’t start writing a new book until I have the first line. I may change it later, when a better line materializes, but that first line is critical – if it’s good, it gives the reader -- and me -- an indication of the pace... setting… and mood of the story.
In the workshops Michael and I did, we handed out examples, then asked the kids to write their own. I don’t have the kids’ lines (I wish I did), but below are some of the first lines we handed out. I’ve collected them from a variety of places – other authors’ lists as well as my own, so thanks to people who contributed. And a big hat’s off to the authors who wrote them in the first place.
“The man with ten minutes to live was laughing.”
The Fist of God by Frederick Forsyth
“The small boys came early to the hanging.”
Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett
“Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them.”
Before The Fact, by Francis Iles (basis for Hitchcock’s Suspicion)
“For a week, the feeling had been with him, and all week long young Paul LeBeau had been afraid.”
Iron Lake, William Kent Krueger
“I was trapped in a house with a lawyer, a bare-breasted woman, and a dead man. The rattlesnake in the paper sack only complicated matters.”
Fat Tuesday, by Earl Emerson
“My bodyguard was mowing the yard wearing her pink bikini when the man fell from the sky.”
Dead Over Heels, by Charlaine Harris
“I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should have put some plastic down.”
Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler
"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Btw, Michael and I had a lively discussion on last lines and whether they need to refer back to the first. (In fact, Marcus did a post on last lines a while back.) Michael believes they should – perhaps not word for word, but thematically. I don’t. Maybe it’s because I wrote too many corporate speeches in another life, speeches in which the intro and conclusion had to be linked.
What do you think?
And in case you were wondering about the first line in DOUBLEBACK, it’s
“Panic has a way of defining an individual.”
So, let us know what your favorite first lines are. Short Stories count...
In fact, let's do a contest. The best 3 opening lines (judged in a totally subjective way by me) get a prize. Which I will tell you about later.