First Lines and First Winner

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal 22 Comments

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 (New Kings James Version)

I guess when you decide to write a post about the first lines of books, you can’t go completely wrong with the first line of the Bible. That line opens the door to everything that follows. God in the beginning and then wow.

No way can I compare my own first lines of stories with that first line of the inspired Word of God. But first lines of books are important no matter what type book. That first line has to invite a reader into the story. It has to make the eyes want to go on to the next line and the next and on and on.

The reason I’m thinking first lines is that I’ve had to come up with plenty in the process of writing thirty plus books. I really don’t know how many books I’ve written. I’ve been fortunate to have thirty-two books published with two more in the process of being published. That’s a lot of beginnings. A lot of bravely typing Chapter 1 and then coming up with a first line. I’m sure I could have perhaps written a more engaging first line for many of my books. But some of them aren’t so bad. Let’s take a look.

Some days David Brooke didn’t know whether to count his blessings or to hide from them. (Scent of Lilacs)

It wasn’t a good thing to be in love with the man your sister was going to marry. (Small Town Girl)

When she saw the two men riding down the lane toward her house, Carlyn Kearney lifted the shotgun down off the long nails that held it over her front door. (The Innocent)

When he was a little boy, his mother told him a drunk jumped off this bridge and survived. (Murder Comes by Mail)

So what do you think? Any of them sound enticing enough to pull you into the story? Those books are all already out there for readers. Nothing I can do about the first lines now. So how about a peek at some future first lines? First I’ll let you see the first line of my upcoming release, Murder Is No Accident.

When Maggie Greene heard a noise in the big old house below her, she sucked in her breath to listen.

I hope that will make readers immediately know that something isn’t right and maybe Maggie has reason to be a little afraid.

Then I have a book scheduled for release next September, These Healing Hills. Here’s the first line right now but I’ll be doing more edits on that story before it makes its way out to readers.

Francine Howard stepped off the bus into another world.

You really can’t tell much about that one line except the character’s name and that something is changing for her.

And last, I’ll share the first line of my current work in progress. It’s a historical and everything is subject to change in the story. So this first line may not stay a first line. I’m months away from writing “the end” and then doing more edits.

Adria Starr didn’t want her mother and little brother to stop breathing the way her father did.

I want to come up with good first lines. I like noting first lines in the books I read. I don’t put a book down because of a less than stellar first line, but when it is a good line, then my reader imagination perks up and is ready for the story.

So what do you think? Any of these first lines ones that might draw you into my stories? How much attention do you pay to the first line of the books you read?

And the First Winner is…

And now it’s time to announce my first Sunday winner. Joan A. is the name that rose to the top of my drawing hat. I’ll be in touch with Joan via e-mail to see which of the Hidden Springs mysteries she wants, Murder at the Courthouse or Murder Comes by Mail. Then next Sunday I’ll draw another winner and another the Sunday after that. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment here on my blog post. Those of you who commented on last week’s posts and didn’t win still have your names in the drawing, but you can get an additional entry, which could give you more chance of winning, by leaving a comment on this post and/or Wednesday’s post. You must be eighteen to enter.

Just tell me what you think about some of those first lines or other great first lines of books you’ve read. And as always, thanks for reading.

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Comments 22

  1. Betty w

    I personally think your first lines have improved. I can’t wait to read “Murder is no Accident” & ” The Healing Hills” . I don’t know if I’m too late to be included in your giveaway, but I thank you for the email concerning your new books. Again, Be thankful in all things.

  2. Phyllis Miller

    I think the first lines of all these books are very good, wanting to pull you in and read more. I especially like the first lines of the book “The Innocent” which I have not read. Looking forward to getting this book . Thank you Ann, may you continue to be inspired to give us all a wonderful reading experience.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      Thanks, Phyllis. That line for The Innocent got you in the action right away. You had to read on to find out if Carlyn used that shotgun. 🙂 And of course, we have Asher, the dog, a major part of that very first scene too. Asher was a good dog character. I appreciate your encouraging words. I’m hoping I can write another story now that readers will be glad to read.

  3. peggy clayton

    I just love the murder books that you have been writing although i love my others also. I hope someday you write another one and write her as a teen and young adult just love those first books.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      Hi, Peggy. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my mysteries. And I actually have pitched an idea to my publishers about Lorena and Rosey Corner, but they aren’t interested in it at this time. I would dearly like to go back to Rosey Corner and let Lorena tell me some more or her story, but publishers seem to like three of a series for me and then want me to come up with new characters and events. But who knows? Maybe someday I’ll write that story or Lorena as a young adult anyway. I suppose she was already a teen in my last Rosey Corner book, Love Comes Home. That book had a lot of Lorena’s story.

  4. Gin

    Not saying good first lines aren’t advantageous, they truly can be, but I sometimes wonder if they’re overrated. Just out of curiosity, I pulled a few random books off my shelves and checked the first line – Poisonwood Bible, Life of Pi, Child of God, The Color of Water, Spence and Lila, Beasts of No Nation and The Bell Jar. Of them, only one, The Color of Water, had a sentence that I would truly consider one that would suck a reader into the story – “I’m dead.” From a reader’s POV, I’m far more concerned about the first paragraph and the first couple of pages. I’ve actually tossed books that quickly. 😉

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      And of course, you’re right, Gin. It often, actually nearly always, takes more than that first sentence to get a read into a story. It could be that writers do obsess over trying to write a great first sentence more than readers. One of my favorite first lines is in Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency. “This time there would be no witnesses.” While this book is one definitely not for everybody since it’s a quirky off the wall read something like his famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I did admire that first sentence. I think it’s fun to test out those first sentences in books I read but I don’t toss a book until I’ve given it a good try. I have put books aside at times when the story wasn’t for me. I’ve also stopped reading authors after reading a book I didn’t like or that was too graphic or too depressing or too whatever. That said, I’m always grateful when readers stick with my stories through a few chapters to see if I’m going to capture their imaginations. That’s what fiction is all about – getting the reader to step into the story and see it all in his or her imagination.

  5. Lucy Reynolds

    The first line of your WIP sounds like a book of loss. We have to love first, so she must love her family. Thank you for writing wonderful stories for us.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      Hi, Lucy. That first line actually needs a second or third line to really get the story going, but you did get the right idea from what was there. It is a sentence that shows loss. What it doesn’t show until the next sentence is that my character is a seven year old child. We’ll see how all this turns out.

  6. Post
    Ann H Gabhart

    Hi, Ola. I used to think that if I started a book, I had to finish it. But then I realized, as you have, that there are so many books out there to read and we all have different favorite styles of genres, so why waste reading time on a book I’m not enjoying? But I’m like you that unless the beginning of a book is in some way offensive, I will give the story a fair try. I’m so glad to read that you haven’t decided to give up on any of my books and have read to the end all the ones you’ve started.

    Hi, Deborah – That “In the beginning -” does have much promise in a few words. I’ve read some great first lines in other books, but of course, I can’t remember any of them now the way Paula did. I’ll have to try to find some from other writers just to share sometime.

    Hi, Fran – Thanks for your kind words. I do enjoy (well, most of the time) writing stories and hope I have a few more to tell. I’ll be interested to hear what you think about the new mystery coming out in March.

  7. Post
    Ann H Gabhart

    Hi, Robin – Probably the cover is one of the most important first impressions for a book. Sometimes it takes that good cover to get a reader to give the first line a try, but then the first line or paragraph sort of gives a glimpse of the writing style and what kind of book it might be. Glad you enjoyed peeking at a writer’s methods.

    Hi, Betsy – I usually give an author more than one line. I generally read along in the book for a while before I decide it’s not for me, but a good beginning is a big plus.

    Hi, Connie Lee – I’m glad you liked the first lines I shared. Naturally, I tried to pick some of my better ones. LOL. But I do try to write the kind of first line that does entice the reader and give a promise of the story to come. That’s a lot to expect one line to do, isn’t it?

  8. Post
    Ann H Gabhart

    Hi, Tammy. I like the way you say opening a new book to read is like meeting a new person where first impressions are so important. That’s one reason that book covers so need to be eye-catching. And that the best way to enjoy a book, to feel like you are right there living the story with the characters. Nice comment.

    Hi, Paula. Those are two classic lines. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was one of my favorite books when I was a teen. Loved that story. I should read it again. I never read many of Charles Dickens’s books. For some reason when I was reading all the old classics his didn’t make the cut. I did read Oliver Twist. Glad you thought my first lines were inviting.

    Hi, Margaret – I’m really glad to hear that my first chapters generally pull you into my stories. A lot of books take more than that first line for me, but a good first paragraph is always welcome.

    Hi, Karen – Good to read that you thought my first lines were inviting. Of course, one of them was for Scent of Lilacs. So glad you enjoyed reading that story. I had so much fun writing the Heart of Hollyhill stories.

  9. Fran Foor

    They all sound great Ann. I have read many of your books and I especially enjoy the murder mysteries. Thanks for writing all of your great books. Your such an inspiration to us all. God bless!

  10. Deborah Henderson

    I had never thought about the importance of first lines until I read your post and got to thinking about it. You are correct that they encourage you to read further, just like that first line in the Bible, “In the beginning….”

  11. Ola Norman

    After looking at the cover and reading the blurb about the book, I usually read the first sentence. If it doesn’t pull me in I probably will read at least 25 pages before giving up, sometimes more depending on subject matter. There’s too many good books out there to waste time on one that doesn’t pull me into the story. So far I’ve finished reading all of your books I’ve started! 🙂

  12. Connie Lee

    I think first lines are important, they draw the reader in wanting to see what is going on in the story. I think all your first lines are great!

  13. Robin in NC

    I never really thought about first lines before, but after reading your first lines, it made me think. I guess first lines in a book are like first impressions of people. Thanks, once again, for sharing a peek inside a writers’ brain! Hope you have a great day Ann!

  14. Karen Jones

    First lines do catch my attention and make me want me to read on. Love all of those first lines that you shared with us. . 😊 Yes, I would want to continue reading as I did when I read Scent of Lilacs.

  15. Margaret Nelson

    First lines that grab my attention right off are always a good thing. If the first line isn’t attention grabbing, but the first paragraph together is, I’m good with that. I’ve read a few books where the whole first chapter has me wondering if it’s worth continuing to read! Ann, most of your first lines grab me, and the first paragraphs and chapters definitely do!

  16. Paula

    Those are grrreat first lines. Yes they pull you in to want to learn more!
    My two classic favs are: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again. And: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

    Can everybody guess which books they are from and the authors?


    First lines are so important. For me, reading a book is like meeting a new person. That first impression sets the tone for the relationship. And yes, when I like a book, I feel that I have a relationship with the story and the characters.

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