Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Picture an old-fashioned telephone, the kind you'd see in a 1940's movie about a wealthy family. The telephone has a large, square base, and an ornate receiver in the cradle on top.  It rests on the desk in their fancy house. Now imagine a picture of that same telephone on the front of a tee shirt, except that the receiver is now shaped like a whale. Beneath the telephone are the words, "Call me, Ishmael." Amazing what a different receiver and a comma can do.

The last time I saw a tee shirt I wanted to wear was when I found one that said, "Hand over the chocolate and nobody gets hurt." But I digress.

 This post is about first lines of novels, and Google will show you lists of the best 25 or even 100.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The aforementioned "Call me Ishmael" without the comma, which is from MOBY DICK by Herman Melville.

2. "Last night I dreamed of Manderly again,"  which is from my favorite book, REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier.

3. As a romance writer, I also like, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen.

4.  "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream, and he had gone 84 days without catching a fish." THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Hemingway.

5. "It was a dark and stormy night."  PEANUTS fans know that Snoopy sat on top of his doghouse, typing that line into his typewriter. I assume you also know the line has been ridiculed as one of the worst, and that every year San Jose State University runs a Bulwer-Lytton contest in which "wretched writers" submit the first sentence of the worst possible book. Many of these are fabulous, but I'm not going to reprint one because it's hard to choose and can be as many as 60 words long.

I actually entered that contest once but didn't win any award. Maybe my sentence wasn't horrible enough, which is, I guess, a mixed blessing. But I still try to write memorable first sentences to my books, and here's a sample of ones I'm happy with.

1. "I landed the assignment to go to Rome, not because I was the best reporter at L.A. Life..." ROMAN HOLIDAY,  White Rose Publishing.

2. "Dana had fallen into a dream job. and. like a dream, it could disappear in an instant." STRANGER IN PARADISE, originally published by Kensington, now an e-book.

3. "Haley Parsons stared into the beauty salon's oversized mirror. A stranger stared back at her." NORTH BY NORTHEAST winner of the San Diego Book Award in 2002.

4. "I wouldn't ask Gary Pritchard to captain Southern Star if he were the last skipper left alive in the Bahamas."  SOUTHERN  STAR, which was published by Avalon Books in hardcover and available for $5 from me. (For more information, send me an e-mail at this website.)

There are a few more opening lines I'm pleased with, but those books are still in the hands of editors, waiting for acceptance. How about you? Do you enjoy trying to come up with a killer first line? Have you written any first lines in your books that you're especially proud of?


  1. No, I haven't. But I'm new and learning the craft. So right now all my writing seems like crap. Enjoyed your blog.

    1. Mary:
      Thanks for the comment. I've been doing this for 30 years and still have days when my writing feels like crap. But it does get better, so don't give up.

  2. "My life changed forever the night I drank the last of my bourbon." My upcoming novel, Goodbye Emily.

    1. Michael:
      What a great first line. When you asked for opinions, I voted for the cover of your book and wish you much success. Thanks for sharing.


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