How the First Sentence is Like a Pick Line

You walk into a party, and scope out someone you’d like to know. Walking up to them, you say the first thing you can think of. “Fat penguin.” If the person replies, “Is that what you always say when you want to break the ice?” then you know that you’ve met someone who thinks like you. If they smile politely and walk away…well, that tells you something, too.

The first sentence in a book is a lot like a pick up line at a party. It should tell us something. It should make a promise to the reader of what’s to come.

Real life doesn’t always make and keep promises. I think the first thing I ever said to my husband was, “I’m Kristy. I’m from Washington, and I’m studying English.” His response included something about zoology, which led to a discussion about how the study of zoology has very little to do with actual zoo-keeping. It’s hard to imagine how such a boring and mundane conversation led to 30+ years of marriage and six children. In real life, we can start off boring and bumbling and generally, most kind people will give us a second-go-around.

With books—not so much. We have a paragraph or two to win a reader. After all, books don’t have the added of benefits of blue eyes and well-fitting jeans. Like the topic sentences of our school day essays, the first sentence of a book shoulders a heavy burden. It needs to make a promise and reflect the over-all tone and theme of the story.

Here are several of my favorite first sentences (no surprise that they are all my own.)
Stealing Mercy
New York City’s night noises seeped through the wall chinks and window: the jingle of horse harnesses, the stomping of hooves, the mournful howl of a dog, but one noise, a noise that didn’t belong, jarred Mercy awake.(Stealing Mercy) This sentence promises danger and suspense. We also know that this is a plot driven novel with a historical setting.

losing pennyPenny loved Richard and she adored Rose, but her feelings toward pralines and cream were mediocre at best. She didn’t want to look like a giant pralines and cream ice cream cone on Rose’s wedding day.(Losing Penny) This is a character driven story and this particular character has weight issues and a sense of humor.

hailey's comments copy“A lemon that’s been squeezed too many times ends up in the compost pile…” I started out strong, but my words faded away when I noticed Savannah Everett’s father staring at me. He stood beside a cart filled with vegetables, grinning, as if he had caught me in my lie.(Hailey’s Comments) What do we learn? That our main character is living a lie, and some grinning man has discovered it.

Notice how all promise a different reading experience. Think of the first sentence as a movie trailer. If we see a trailer with Tom Cruise carrying a gun–things had better blow up and if they don’t, as a movie goer, we’re going to be mad. Same thing with a book. The first sentence makes a promise of what’s to come. Of course, writers can’t rest on one good sentence. The first sentence has to be followed by a whole string of sentences to keep us turning to the last page.

Here are some brilliant first sentences.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, (A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens)
I began these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular patterns of living, (Gifts from the Sea, Lindberg)
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, Austin)
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1981, Orwell)
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

I put my own sentences cheek to cheek with Austin and Lewis, not because I feel that my work is in anyway comparable, but because I can freely talk about my own writerly intentions. I wouldn’t dare to presume to know the thoughts or intents of the literary great…all I can say is they wrote darn good sentences—first and otherwise.

If you have a first sentence you’d like to share, please leave it in the comment box, along with your title, name, and buy link (just in case we’re so intrigued with your story that we want to read until the very last page.)

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About Kristy Tate

USA Today bestselling author Kristy Tate has come a long way from small-town Washington. Her avid curiosity and love of reading have carried her to thirty plus countries. (She loves to travel to the places she reads and writes about.) She's the author of more than twenty books, including the bestselling and award-winning Beyond Series and the Kindle Scout winning Witch Ways series. She writes mysteries with romance, humorous romance, light-hearted young adult romance, and urban fantasy. When she's not reading, writing, or traveling, she can be found playing games with her family, hiking with her dogs, or watching movies while eating brownies. She is also a popular public speaker and presents writing workshops for schools, libraries, and fundraisers. All proceeds donated to charity. References available upon request.
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35 Responses to How the First Sentence is Like a Pick Line

  1. bellastreet says:

    Love those beautiful covers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ruth ONeil says:

    This is the topic I’m teaching to a writing class this week! Thanks for posting.
    First line of “Belonging” –
    “Shelly was in denial. “It really didn’t happen,” she said talking to herself. “It didn’t happen,” she whispered.”

    http://amzn.to/TFP8bf

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this opportunity…here goes:

    Sara rarely remembers her dreams.

    From DREAM STUDENT by J.J. DiBenedetto
    http://getBook.at/DreamStudent

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for letting us share! Here’s the first sentence of my new release:

    “There was nothing quite like the sound of ten thousand people gasping at once.”

    CROSSING THE ICE by Jennifer Comeaux:
    http://amzn.to/WVeXXl

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Kristy, lovely post of books’ pick-up lines. Enjoyed yours, and Ruth’s and JJ’s.

    Here’s mine from A Beastly Scandal (a clean read):
    Dear Lord, let us not have killed him. In a panic, Belle clambered down from the carriage and ran to the fallen horseman lying on the snow-covered ground.

    This opening hopefully suggests this is a plot-driven historical romance that takes place in winter, and I hope the title and prayer shows that this story is laced with a sense of humor.

    http://www.amazon.com/A-Beastly-Scandal-ebook/dp/B00BYO9CA0

    Liked by 1 person

  6. From “The Devil Has Dimples” by Pepper Phillips

    Folks knew Maudie Cooper was really dead when they read her funeral invite listed in the Boggy Bayou Chronicle.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. From Cera’s Place, a historical romance set in post-Civil War San Francisco:
    “You should have told me you were with child.”
    http://www.amazon.com/Ceras-Place-ebook/dp/B005PNP3BI

    From Venice in the Moonlight, a historical romance set in 1753 Venice:
    Marietta Gatti smashed a pea with the back of her silver spoon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FMGW38E

    Liked by 1 person

  8. J. C. Conway says:

    “Despite the warm evening wind, Tala drew her knees close and shivered.”

    HEARTS IN RUIN, J. C. Conway
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K4K6TME

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lucie Ulrich says:

    Well, this is fun. Thanks for allowing us to share.
    “Sky Baxter l,eaned against the worn red counter and stared through the diner’s plate glass window.”
    From “The Rose Ring” a contemporary, inspirational romance. By Lucie Ulrich
    http://amazon.com/dp/B00LTZESEY

    Liked by 1 person

  10. TinaGayle says:

    Here’s mine for Marketing Exec’s Widow – “You sure you want an older home?” Jennifer Larson stepped into the living room of the early-American style home, eyed the faded wallpaper and fought the dust tickling her nose.
    UK link
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Marketing-Execs-Widow-Executives-Wives-ebook/dp/B007AARGPA/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1410188417&sr=1-2

    Like

  11. susanrhughes says:

    Jake knew he wouldn’t have time to save his daugher’s life.
    From Kiss the Bridesmaid:
    http://www.amazon.com/Kiss-Bridesmaid-Eastport-Book-2-ebook/dp/B00MC40SX6

    Like

  12. Carol says:

    Great first lines. Thanks for sharing! “Her father’s death hadn’t slowed time.” From Perfect Match. http://amzn.com/B007GTRIC6

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sitting at the table, boiled egg in front of her, Michaela carried on a one-sided conversation with said egg: “So, where is he – the handsome, witty, intelligent, honest, industrious, besotted husband who should be sitting across the table from me?
    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/288901 This is a sweet romance.

    Like

  14. Jill James says:

    Guess you just never know. Who would have thought something as terrible as the zombie apocalypse would bring me something as wonderful as Seth Ripley?

    –from Love in the Time of Zombies, coming out this year.

    Like

  15. From my NA contemporary romance- A Guy and A Girl
    “Chelsea.” Kendall nudged her friend in the ribs. “Is that one of your dad’s guys?”
    Buy link – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00L2GRD1U

    Like

  16. Daryl Devore says:

    Capri’s Fate – erotic contemporary fantasy
    My erotic adventure began the minute he whispered, “Do you happen to own a pair of red, fuzzy handcuffs?”
    http://www.amazon.com/Capris-Fate-ebook/dp/B00CJ1I6Y0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1366992997&sr=1-1&keywords=new+dawning+bookfair

    Like

  17. Daryl Devore says:

    sorry – I thought I took the hyperlink out?!?!

    Like

  18. Thank you for the opportunity!
    From my Regency romance, To Save a Viscount: Book Four of the Spy Series
    “He had grown so accustomed to the sound of gunfire that he did not hear the shot that was meant to kill him.”
    Buy link: http://amzn.to/1tddN6P

    Like

  19. Thank you and great first lines from everyone.
    Here’s mine from The Garnet Dagger, Book 1 Legends of Oblivion – Fantasy / Paranormal Romance

    “I’ve known death.”

    Amazon Buy Link: smarturl.it/TheGarnetDagger

    Like

  20. janarichards says:

    Thanks for this opportunity! This is the opening from my humorous contemporary romance ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID:

    This was it. Definitely. She’d never be a bridesmaid again. She really meant it this time.

    http://amzn.com/B00HX34F94

    Like

  21. Love reading all your first lines! Here’s mine from Horses, Adrenaline, and Love:
    What the — oh, no! Stop! The smallish woman felt her feet being bounced out of the stirrups and her short hair flapping up and down.
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B76F9ZC

    Like

  22. P.J. MacLayne says:

    I first noticed him at the other end of the row when I glanced up to find another book.

    From The Marquesa’s Necklace http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LF11HB4

    Like

  23. Thanks ladies. 🙂

    The Witchy Wolf and the Wendigo ~by Rose Anderson
    A shaman’s tale inspired ancient myth and urban legend.
    …………………………………….
    Ten years ago, a reporter for a small-town newspaper heard word of strange dawn and dusk sightings of a wolf-like creature roaming the Wisconsin countryside.
    …………………………………….
    Find my romance wherever books are sold. Sample here:
    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/333971

    Get to know Rose
    http://calliopeswritingtablet.com/

    Like

  24. leighmorgan1 says:

    Great post. The C.S. Lewis line is one I’m sorry to say I haven’t read before. I will be reading it now!

    Like

  25. elysahen says:

    Great post! I love reading first sentences. After the cover and the blurb that’s what hooks me into the story. Here’s the first sentence from my contemporary romance THE BABY RACE.
    http://is.gd/thebabyrace

    “I can’t marry a stranger.”

    Like

  26. What a fun post! The first line of my mystery/romantic suspense novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today is:
    Kris Langley stared at the bright newsprint lit up on the microfilm reader.
    http://www.amazon.com/Twenty-Five-Years-Ago-Today-ebook/dp/B003U4WVKA/ref

    Like

  27. Joan Reeves says:

    What a great post, Kristy! Enjoyed it very much.

    Like

  28. rosgemmell says:

    Thanks for this opportunity! Mine is the first line from Midwinter Masquerade by Romy Gemmell.

    As the carriage departed from her house in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square,
    Lady Lenora Fitzallan settled back in her seat and contemplated the change to her
    plans since receiving the unexpected correspondence.

    http://www.amazon.com/Midwinter-Masquerade-Romy-Gemmell-ebook/dp/B00G4DNG7G

    Website: http://www.rosemarygemmell.com

    Like

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