First Line of a Story

When I get asked to review something, the first line is one of the deciding factors on whether I'll read the whole thing or not.  After all, if the first line is bad, what does that say about the rest of the novel. 

This is something most people mess up on.  Some more than others.  Sufficed to say, this should be your best work.  Almost as important as your synopsis.  Why?  Because there are like a thousand fictions to read on this site.  If you can't even spell check the first line of your story, it says volumes about what the rest of it is gonna be like.  

The first line should be eye catching, it should be one of the best lines you're capable of writing.  If you don't want to take my word for it then how about a professional authors. He has better examples than I do and demonstrates the point far more elegantly than I did.

Look at LMS for a good example of a first line

Quote:Just imagine a noble, elegant and picturesque life of poverty that you might find in a soap opera, and no matter how poor you were, it still didn't discourage you from showing unconditional love for strangers or even sharing your piece of bread with a warm smile.

If anyone ever claimed that such an illusion existed in reality, Lee Hyun would have beaten him to a pulp, and then strike them once more to finish him off.

Tell me that doesn't make you laugh a little?  

You don't have to start off with a joke either.  Here's one from American author Terry Brooks, "Magical Kingdom For Sale.  Sold!"

Quote:The catalog was from Rosen's, Ltd. It was the department store's annual Christmas Wishbook.  
It was addressed to Annie. 
Ben Holiday stood frozen before the open cubicle of his mailbox, eyes slipping across the gaily decorated cover of the catalog to the white address label and the name of his dead wife.  

This one I'd say was more about proving the level of the author.  His high vocabulary.  His detailed descriptions.  Not to mention the fact that it sets up the beginning of the story.  What do we know about the story from just these few lines?  

1) The protagonist has a dead wife
2) He has a subscription to a department store's catalog book
3) He's standing in front of his mailbox.
4) The catalog is very fancy
5) The catalog belonged to his dead wife.

What can we guess from this information?

1) The protagonist is still in mourning over his wife's death.
2) He has important memories involving the catalog with his now dead wife.
3) The catalog may be from a high end department store.

All of that information we got from just the first couple of lines of the story.  I'd say this was an informative opening.  It was designed to setup the rest of the story.  

RE: First Line of a Story

"In another world full of fantasy and magic named Magia Interminatis, there was a small country named Defectus. It was once a great country but now is but a shell of its former self. Even the country’s name had to change. While the original name was lost forever with all records of it burned or altered. But now this country was to witness the birth of a very important person. A person that is unknown to the masses yet will live on eternally.
The court magician of Defectus was a humble man by the name of Nemo. This name was out of spite from his prostitute mother, but strangely suiting."

First few lines of my FF

1. Sets up a country with some background
2. Sets a potential main character or protagonist
3. Important person? Creates mystery. Is it Nemo or...?
4. Shows that Nemo might have been traumatised by his lack of a mother. Might be important later on.
5. A name created out of spite, might refuse to let it define him. Unlikely since the next sentence says it fits him.
6. Nemo is latin, what does it mean? Look it up or continue and see if you learn through context clues?

What do you think of this?

RE: First Line of a Story

Good attempt, but it breaks another rule.  "Show don't tell"

EDIT I changed my mind on this. I like it. While exposition should be avoided, it can be used to skip over the odd boring details which are too numerous to show. It's something I'm still figuring out myself, but I suppose the ultimate rule is "is it an enjoyable opening?" and it was. I'll leave my pre-edit commentary there as well though. END OF EDIT

Too much exposition.  That's the second thread I wanna make.  Exposition is where you tell the lore and the history of the world to the reader as if he was reading a textbook.  What you wanna do is show him the history of the world.   Imagine that there's a ghost who knows nothing other than what he observes standing behind your protagonist watching everything that he says and does and his interactions with other people.  

You can bend this rule a little bit, and I realize the Terry Brooks example breaks the rule a little too, but your example has a bit too much exposition in it for my liking.  Here's a guide to the rule for you.

RE: First Line of a Story


The weather is so hot at Dakan Plain today. Located in northern part of Cetra Continent, a grassland which stretches as far as eye can see, only one or two trees here and there.

Dakan Plain is the only land route big enough to be passed by a large army towards Arcana, the capital of Zaphyr Kingdom. There stand firm fortress city Granadia, serves as gateway to Arcana, with its majestic wall intimidating anyone dare to approach with ill intention.

what do u think? Well, it still tell than show though

RE: First Line of a Story

The wording is awkward, and hard to grasp.  It sounds like your on the right track, but you mess up in a few other places as well.  At least I don't see any spelling errors either.  

Here's a couple of examples that I wrote which do the same thing.  The first one is basically me editing what you gave with better word choices.  

It was another blisteringly hot day for those with the misfortune of crossing the Dakan Plain.  It was located in the northern region of the Cetra Continent, a vast verdant field that stretched in all directions as far as the eye could see—adorned only by a few sparsely placed trees.

Dakan Plain was the only land route large enough to allow an army passage towards Arcana—the capitol of Zaphyr Kingdom.  It was there that the fortress city of Granadia stood.  It served as the gateway to Arcana with a majestic and intimidating wall, barring passage to all those who approached.  

This second one conveys the same information, but it's almost pure showing instead of telling.  I took some liberties and made some stuff up about the story to allow me to do this though.  

"Shut it!  It's bloody hot, and I don't have time to listen to your rambling."  Razal said while shoving a lower ranking lieutenant off his feet with only one hand.  

"But sire, if we're to crush Granadia, then we need a plan.  Their walls could hold back ten armies." The lieutenant spoke as fast as he could while pulling himself off the ground.  

"Oh for the love of Hesqa.  There is only one way for our army to get to Granadia, we have only one weapon against their walls, and they've no doubt scouted all of this information for themselves.  What plan could possibly change—this battle... Our battle...  MY BATTLE—from what it is destined to be.  "  Razal spoke in increasing volume as he stood intimidatingly over the smaller lieutenant as he fumbled his way off the ground.  

Razal bent over to look the lieutenant straight in the eyes, their faces were only inches apart as he spoke.  "Rest assured lieutenant, nothing will stop this army from crushing Granadia, and then marching gloriously on to Arcana the capitol of Zaphyr.  "

At that the lieutenant seemed to lose his nerve and backed down.  Razal only laughed at the man as he tumbled away back to his post.  "If anything stops us, it'll be the heat from the Dekan Plains...  A few more nights like this, and even I'll collapse..."  Razal mumbled to himself.  

This is another thing I should have mentioned before. You don't have to cram a bunch of information into the first few lines. Setting up the story isn't the goal of the first line. The goal is to catch the readers interest, to write something that urges the reader to read on.

Telling should be avoided, but it sounds like its pertinent information which will be used almost right away in the story, so it's not bad telling.  

The biggest problem is your verb tense is off.  I'm guessing English isn't your first language.  Well at least you stuck it through something that proofed the spelling for you.  

A couple of guides that might help you with your English.  Your problem seems to be making your English flow, and your verb tense.

RE: First Line of a Story

Wow, it's more feedback than I can expect. Thanks for the tips, I will also check the links later. And you're right, English isn't my first language.

I have questions that's been bothering for a long time, if you don't mind. It's related with the verb tense you mentioned above.

So... in third person perspective we use past tense except in conversation? (is this the common way?)

What if I use a first person perspective? Past tense as well?
Sometimes it's overlapping with MC's thought, should I make a clear line between the thought and the act?

lastly, why are you using 'capitol' instead of 'capital'? is there a difference in meaning/usage between them?

Thank you in advance

RE: First Line of a Story

This post is redacted.  At the time I didn't understand the terminology as well as I do now and this post was a product of that ignorance. 

To be honest, in writing, using past tense anywhere is considered bad form.  It's a bad habit a lot of writers have.  I found a great free app for it though.

Meet the hemmingway app.  Writers are supposed to keep it simple, write everything in present tense, and reduce the amount of adverbs they use.  The idea is that it's hard to read really complicated writing.  This is good for you because it means you are actually encouraged to use simpler English.  

You want to reduce the amount of adverbs you use because a lot of them are redundant.  Authors tend to abuse adverbs and it only makes reading your story harder.  So this is a good way of cleaning up your writing.  

But yes, write in present tense EVERYWHERE.  Most of the authors are really messing up their stories by not doing that.  In writing we call it "passive voice" and it messes up the flow of a story.

That explains it better than I can.  Just look up passive voice vs active voice if you need more information or more links.

RE: First Line of a Story

Do we have misunderstanding here?
Both "Johny sat on the bench" (past tense) and "Johny sits on the bench" (present tense) are active voice, I believe.
How does this active vs passive thing related to my question?

Yeah I saw the hemingway link in another thread and tried it. While it can be useful to point out hard sentences, it doesn't check grammar. So it didn't really answer my confusion about past vs present tense usage.

While you said about a writer need to write in present tense everywhere, your suggestions about the changes in my opening paragraphs/lines (both alternatives) were written in past tense. Now I'm really confused. Again, do we have misunderstanding here?

Quote:It was another blisteringly hot day for those with the misfortune of crossing the Dakan Plain.
<--tell me if this isn't a past tense? Shouldn't it be "it is another..."?

And what about capitol vs capital?

Thank you in advance

RE: First Line of a Story

I think you found something that I'm not really sure about.  I don't really think about it when I write tense.  I don't think it really matters whether it's first or third person.  Just write in whatever tense makes sense for the situation.  "Jonny took a seat." can work if it's happening in the now, and "Jonny had already sat down." works if it's something you didn't see happen.  Third person or first has nothing to do with it.  

Sorry about that.  You're right, I was confusing passive voice with past tense.


Since I first posted this message, I researched how to deal with this particular problem.  What you want to do is talk like your a bard in a bar reciting a great battle from ages past.  At least, for 95% of fictions.  Past tense by definition is for story telling.  Of course, that doesn't mean that your sentence can't take you to speaking in the present tense, but past tense is how you normally wanna talk. 

Quote:He was a cranky old man, weathered, balding, tired and feeble.  His favorite catchphrase was "Get off my lawn." and he always made time to chase those damned skateboarding punks polluting the streets.

RE: First Line of a Story

I had a read of this and find this interesting. As well as a few other posts you have made, D, about your reviews and such.

I just want to quickly grab the question about capitol and capital before. I believe capitol may have been used wrongly here. All the definitions I am getting for capitol are the same:

A capitol (with an o) is a building that houses a government's legislative branch

Whereas you appear to be discussing a city, the capital of a country, from what I could make out in your piece.

Anyway, that aside, I am interested in what you make of my first few lines, as they are quite different from what the others have put up in this thread.

A hand lifted up to gently push at the door.

It swung open freely, surprising as he was certain the door had not been opened in the last hundred years. He smiled to himself, thinking of what he might find.

He stepped into the dark room and a sigh escaped his lips as he was not destroyed in an instant. He could not relax too much though, as the door silently started swinging shut, the only thing alerting him the diminishing light from the doorway.

Quickly he wedged his foot in the door to keep it from closing. He wriggled free from his shoe. He may have been able to open it from the outside, but he had no idea if he would be able to repeat it from the inside. Better to be safe than sorry.

I also looked into that Hemingway app today, decided to just through everything I had written for my story into it, and got a grade 4, and all the other numbers okay considering what it was saying. I might have a look into the very hard sentences at some point, but I did notice most of those were where I had a person start talking, made mention of something in between, and then they began talking again, all as a single sentence. Like this:

Quote:"Bugger, only three rays left, this won’t last too long," he pointed it forward again, "And I still need to use it for the chalk too. I better find this crash quick."

I don't know if I am actually doing it wrong, or what.

RE: First Line of a Story

The biggest problem I see is that you need to give a bit more perspective on what's going on and where we are before you start having the character give his opinions on things.  Put a descriptive paragraph in there before you start having him think. 

This problem was worst when I came across this line "He stepped into the dark room and a sigh escaped his lips as he was not destroyed in an instant" Okay, what the hell.  I am clearly being under informed here if he's doing something so monumentally dangerous that he could be destroyed in an instant, simply from opening the door and I have no clue as to why. 

For the most part grammar seems to be okay, but this sentence "He could not relax too much though, as the door silently started swinging shut, the only thing alerting him the diminishing light from the doorway." has a few problems.  I don't believe that first comma should be there and the second comma should be a period making it a run-on sentence.  After that there should be a verb between "alerting him ____ the diminishing light"

Another small problem in this sentence I just noticed, "thinking of what he might find." should be "wondering what he might find."

As for the hemingway editor, grade 4 might be a bit low, my own are usually grade 5 after an edit.  Long sentences are fine, just don't have run-on sentences.  Reduce your adverb count rather than eliminate them.  Adverbs are often redundant or unnecessary, but that doesn't mean they should never be used. 

RE: First Line of a Story

Hmm so...

Heavy rain pelted down in the crowded rural town of Korha, light grey clouds blanketed the sky and a cold gentle breeze wafted in every so often. The clouds were quickly becoming darker, the rain heavier and the breeze started to whir. People of all walks of life could be seen running around frantically trying to find cover from the rain.

A metal sign hung from the gate, ‘Welcome to Korha’ engraved in cursive writing as it moved steadily in tune to the strengthening wind.

As the stranger passed the gate he failed to notice the hundreds of poorly done sketches embedded into the sign. They were hard to read but each and every one of the sketches said the same thing, 'Welcome to hell.'

“A storms coming hmm” quietly mused a hooded traveller

*crackle* *RUMBLE*

Thunder bellowed as he passed the metal ivy gate, his tall silhouette looked ominous as the surroundings flashed as bright as day.

“Home sweet home”
Is okay as an intro?

RE: First Line of a Story

Odd grammar mistake and a bit wordy, but otherwise very good.  It's more in the old fashioned slow startup style of writing.  This is fine, but a lot of authors these days find it very hard to grab readers attention without a strong hook at the start.  This is definitely the direction i wanna see a first line of a story take.  As for nitpicking for mistakes....

1) first sentence is a comma spliced run-on sentence.
2) avoid using the term "every so often" it makes you use a lot of words to make a vague description.  Instead something like "Light gray clouds blanketed the sky and a gentle breeze blew over the town."
3)I'd suggest you try and focus that first paragraph more.  Make one paragraph describing the clouds, and another describing it's affects on the town.  The way you have it, you mix the two together for a somewhat confusing description.

4)Get rid of the "of all walks of life" from that last sentence there, it's assumed information.  Remember we want less words, describing more in simple words.
5) In the second paragraph, what gate are you talking about?  You just kinda jump to a sign posted on a gate of some kind.  Be more specific.  
6) change "As the stranger passed" to "A stranger passed" because "the" implies you've already introduced him.  
7) You say the sign had "hundreds of poorly done sketches" on it, only thing I have to say is that must be a massive sign to be able to fit hundreds of sketches.  
8) Don't use sound effects in asterisks, it's bad form.  Describe the noise instead.  "Lightning flashed, then crackled somewhere in the distance."  "A low rumble shook the stranger as he passed through the metal gates."
9) How can the gate be made of metal and ivy?  Your wording implies this.  It should be worded like "the metal gate—overgrown with ivy."

But that's just me being picky.  Good job.

RE: First Line of a Story

5/7/2015 11:51:48 AMNirb Wrote: [ -> ]Hmm so...
Heavy rain pelted down in the crowded rural town of Korha, light grey clouds blanketed the sky and a cold gentle breeze wafted in every so often. The clouds were quickly becoming darker, the rain heavier and the breeze started to whir. People of all walks of life could be seen running around frantically trying to find cover from the rain.
A metal sign hung from the gate, ‘Welcome to Korha’ engraved in cursive writing as it moved steadily in tune to the strengthening wind.
As the stranger passed the gate he failed to notice the hundreds of poorly done sketches embedded into the sign. They were hard to read but each and every one of the sketches said the same thing, 'Welcome to hell.'
“A storms coming hmm” quietly mused a hooded traveller
*crackle* *RUMBLE*
Thunder bellowed as he passed the metal ivy gate, his tall silhouette looked ominous as the surroundings flashed as bright as day.
“Home sweet home”
Is okay as an intro?
I remember reading a complaint from editors about a similar first paragraph to yours. It was "Is the story about weather?". They had read so many stories starting with some variation of "It was a dark and stormy night". I understand you are trying to set the mood but I'd work the weather into the rest of the story. Here's a good discussion of the pro's and con's:

If you really want to present a mysterious town named Korha as the start, then perhaps add action. 'The hooded traveler ducked to avoid the town's welcome sign as the storm's winds ripped it from the signpost and sent it flying past him down the road.'

I won't pretend that's perfect, but you can then mention how he saw part of the name but already knew it and reached to make sure his weapons were easily accessible to imply the town is dangerous and so on. Or if he didn't know the town's name then maybe lightning lit the sign before it ripped off. Work the scribbles into graffiti on the walls or the gates sides or something if you really need them.

RE: First Line of a Story

While that hemingwayapp is useful for minor suggestions and pointing out run-on sentences, i would ignore its grading system. Hell, i wouldn't even suggest such a site even just for pointing out passive voice, you'd get more out of microsoft word + google than it. That website would have a shxx fit if some of George R.R. Martin's work got inserted into it. I took the first few pages of A Game of Thrones just to see how it was graded, got an 11 which was 'ok' lol. I wouldn't dare see how it graded ee cummings, i cant imagine it would be graded lower than 20.

On the other hand something like:

"If someone else were in my shoes, lived my life and told me the tale, I'd have called them crazy. But that was my life in a nutshell. Crazy.

It began with a dead drop. These locations were everywhere in the world. Some hid thumb drives in plain sight, others in inconspicuous places. I was giddy with excitement. It was the first time I had been to such a place and I had no idea what I might find. It was that sense of mystery that drove such a trend, just as it drove my curiosity."

gets a grade of 2, All dry 96 words of it. Remember, Readability =/= Enjoyability (which makes the hemingwayapp's grading system pointless). Cummings and GRRM have their own style of writing, but its that style that makes their works so enjoyable to read, even if they don't write in what's considered 100% perfect, proper structured english.

Moral of the story? Write in an entertaining and clear fashion and it won't matter if its passive or active. Readers will eat it up. This doesn't mean ignore grammar, sentence structuring and flow, it just means not to get too hung up on such details like the hemingway website might encourage you to. :)

RE: First Line of a Story

Yea I'm starting to doubt some of the things Hemmingway editor does myself. It's better as a tool to highlight long sentences and adverbs. Then you can see if those are run-on sentences and if those adverbs are really necessary. Although I wouldn't put most of our writers on the level where HemmingwayEditor can't help them even if they listen to it religiously. After all, we have writers who only know how to put the period at the end of the paragraph.

I wanna rewrite this thread to be honest. I've learned a fair bit about this topic and it no longer represents by current beliefs in writing. I'm thinking more that the opening of the book should like every other line, push the plot forward, while at the same time hinting at what type of plot you're going to get here. In my first example, the author demonstrated that weed's personality was central to the plot. In the second example, we learn that the dead wife plays a central role in the books plot progression.

RE: First Line of a Story

‘Do you like games? I love games, in fact my favourite is ‘Hide and go seek’. I play it every day so it must be my favourite’

Nodding in agreement at my excellent deduction I jumped into the thin crevice beside me. Hiding under a house sized boulder suspended by some packed snow.
*Huff* *Huff* Mist shooting out my mouth as I tried to catch my breath.

“Huehuehue, no one will ever find me. 'Cause damn am I good at this game”


“FUCK! Why did I say that out loud?!”

‘Plan B, PLAN B!’

I bolted towards the town, spouting some rather colourful language. A technique I learnt from the jovial patrons of the local tavern to calm down. I thought it added to the scene rather nicely alongside the bread trail of scarlet snow painted in my blood.

Why am I bleeding? An excellent question ask the guy behind me. Oh, and by guy I mean:


“Woof, woof”

“Shut up you crazy asshole you’re not a dog!”


“There should be a limit to idiocy!”


Oh shit, he's getting faster now, curse my lovable snarky brain. Hold on what's this weird feeling?

Ah, ah I think I am going to have an aneurysm from sheer stupidity.


Dammit, I fucking called it.
------------- (Here onwards is me going off topic and adding onto an example intro ~tehe)


Pain rippled down by my back.

Dammit he got me, slashed by a crazed lunatic who thinks he's a fucking wolf. Is that really what I'm gonna say to the gate keeper in heaven when he asks about my cause of death?! NOOOO IT'S TOO EMBARRASSING!

My knees buckled and I face planted into the snow. Hide and go seek turned into a friendly game of dead fish as the wolf, man, thing whatever it was stared at my limp body.

‘Ugh my nose… it itches, now my eyebrow itches ugh why do I always feel so damn itchy when I play dead fish. Must. Resist. Urge. To. Scratch. NOSE!’

Screaming internally 'FUUUUUUUUUUCK'

The wolf man, turned around with a pleasant expression raising his sword into the air shouting his battle cry.


Pfft- “AHAHAHA, jeez” wiping a tear off my eye as I sat up “Never quite grew up did you,  sir ‘Wolf Man the barbarian’” I jested, Itching my nose with a pleasant silly grin.

My will power stretched to its absolute limits seems to have failed me at the most crucial moment.

The man’s face lit up like a red snow berry as he turned back to face me, faced down that is. With his feet turned inwards in a cute posture. Honestly it just looked creepy on him, being a burly old man 'n all.

"Oops, guess I wasn't supposed to hear that" I whispered under my breath

Mr Lunatic overhearing me looked somewhat unhappy as he power walked back to me, his face bright red and tears welling up in his eyes.

Snapping back to reality I rolled over as a sword plunged into the snow until the sword grip reached the ground. My face lost all colour apart from the stream of red still flowing from my nose and a couple loose patches of snow still stuck to my forehead.

Ahaha sorry for the huge comment, I took another shot at trying to make an intro and got really into the setting which resulted in half a chapter

Ended up making a crazy warrior tsundere grandpa and a snarky foul mouthed smart ass who only knows how to run and hide, huh.