Now that I’m writing the ending of the second book in The Conjurors Series, I find myself looking back to the beginning – particularly the very first line of the story. I read a great article in The Atlantic about Stephen King’s approach to writing great first lines – make it an irresistable invitation to continue reading and introduce your style and protagonist. This master of the craft spends weeks and even years perfecting opening lines, and once he does, the rest of the story flows.
But for me, I find that writing a great first line means having a complete grasp of the story as a whole. No matter how detailed my outline is, the story is still nebulous until it’s written. I love to research the “greats” when I’m looking for inspiration, and I thought you might enjoy some of the best first lines from young adult fantasy novels that I encountered on my search.
In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.
– Kristin Cashore, Graceling
This is a simple, graceful opening line that introduces the reader to the protagonist with an interesting tidbit about her personality. It also puts the reader in the middle of the action without being confusing or disorienting.
I felt her fear before I heard her screams.
– Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy
An excellent example of an attention-grabber that propels the reader straight into the story.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhh!” His fall seemed to go on forever.
– Jamie Thomson, Dark Lord: The Early Years
We’re smack dab in the middle of action, and the tone is already set for the offbeat humor that is unique to this story.
Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
– Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
This short sentence both establishes the conversational, first person voice of this series as well as immediately making the reader relate to the protagonist.
Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
– Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass
A girl and her daemon sneaking around in the dark? Please tell me more!
The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.
– Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel
Starting in the middle of an action scene is a classic way that authors hook readers, to the point where it sometimes feels cliche. But Clare decides to go big or go home with this approach, and it got my heart pumping from the first line.
The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.
– Hugh Howey, Wool
Foreshadowing at its finest. The contast between the squealing children and the prospect of death is riveting, and it also introduces us to the first protagonist of the story.
It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
– Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races
This first line shares some of the characteristics of the first line from Wool, but I loved it even better because of its perfect mystery and simplicty.
Dear Reader, I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant.
– Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
Lemony Snicket has a very unique tone in his stories, and from the first line of the A Series of Unfortunate Events series, readers can instantly get a sense of it. I also admire the use of reverse psychology. What is it about him warning me away from this horrible book that really makes me want to keep reading?
I am dead, but it’s not so bad. I’ve learned to live with it.
– Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies
One of the best first lines I’ve come across. Readers get an instant sense of both the tone of the writing and the personality of the protagonist. It also introduces us to a unique concept right away. It doesn’t take pages to discover that we’re in a world unlike anything we’ve read about before.
Did I miss any of your favorite YA fantasy first lines?