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Saturday, 8 October 2011

The importance of the first line...

"This one might be trouble."            Iain Banks, Surface Detail.

A good first line hooks readers, tells them this is going to be good, that they are in safe hands. It is particularly impottant for new writers, since established ones can take their time because their fans already trust them. In scifi, it can also give the reader a good idea of the 'register' of the writing, whether it is going to be 'hard' scifi, cyberpunk, or just a rollicking good thriller, or all of these:

Meteorites fell through the night sky like a gentle sleet of icefire, their sharp scintillations slashing ebony overload streaks across the image Greg Mandel's photon amp was feeding into his optic nerves.
Peter F. Hamilton, Mindstar rising.

If a book is really about one person, the first line can set that up with the reader (like a 'writer-reader contract'):

"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one."
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game.

The first line should always strive for originality, a fresh voice, telling the reader 'this is going to be new, different, a novel perspective'; in the next example, an alien one:

Fins had been making wisecracks about humans for thousands of years.
David Brin, Startide rising.

The one above also indicates the writer has some humor, and shows from the very outset that the book is set probably thousands of years in the future, and humanity is not the dominant species. Not bad for a first line!

Sometimes, however, we just want to know it's going to be a good thriller, with plenty of suspense, and some wonder thrown in along the way:

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.
Arthur C Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama

Action in an alien setting can be an effective way to start a scifi novel...

The three people running northward through moon shadows in the Forbidden Forest were strung out along almost half a kilometre.
Frank Herbert, God emperor of Dune

And then there's dark side... Here's a golden oldie:

It was a pleasure to burn.
Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Last, here's my own contributions...

People rarely search for bodies in ceilings, Gabriel O'Donnell reminded himself.
The Eden Paradox

General William Kilaney awoke, disappointed to find he was still alive.
Eden's Trial (due out December)

If Q’Tor had still been human he’d have shaken himself.
Eden's Revenge (due out September 2012)


Feel free to add your own...

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