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Great First Lines

Posted by Shannon Haddock on January 27, 2017 in Crown of Eldrete, Jake's Last Mission, No More Lies, Once A Hero Always A Hero, Rants |

This is another thing from that list of blogposts that wasn’t totally stupid.

“Make a list of great first lines from books,” it said.  So, here is a list of five first lines that I really like, in no special order:

  1.  All children, except one, grow up.  — Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

     

  2. It is given to few people in this world to disappear twice but, as he had succeeded once, the man known as James T. Kettleman was about to make his second attempt. — Flint by Louis L’Amour
  3. In submitting Captain Carter’s strange manuscript to you in book form, I believe that a few words relative to this remarkable personality will be of interest. — A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  4. The open-air mall was bustling with early afternoon shoppers walking to and fro. — Tsar Wars:  Agents of ISIS, Book 1 by Stephen Goldin
  5. Delyn Laquilavvar laughed in farewell and let the mists claim him.  — Swords of Eveningstar;  The Knights of Myth Drannor, Book 1 by Ed Greenwood

That was going to be a list of ten, but it was harder than I thought to find first lines that I loved.  I could find lots of first paragraphs that were incredible, but very rarely was I impressed with the very firstest line of a book.  I think this shows that, perhaps, too many wannabe authors stress way too much about their first line being perfect.

I’m not sure I could even bullshit an explanation for why most of those first lines appealed to me so much, so I’m not going to bother, except for explaining #4 which doesn’t really seem that interesting by itself.  What makes it stand out to me is that it’s the first line of a space opera.  Yes, that’s right:  a space opera that’s first sentence could be in a contemporarily set book.  This got my attention because it led me to suspect I wasn’t going to be reading yet another book in Ye Generic Space Opera Setting.  (The book in question didn’t disappoint, by the way.  You can read my review here:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/946388032?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1).

I’m not sure what the point of this blogpost is supposed to be.  Is it to show you what sort of first line you can expect from me, maybe?  If so . . . yeah, that’s probably setting your expectations a bit high.  I put a lot more work into making sure every line is good enough to make you read the next than worrying about having a killer first line/first paragraph/first 200 words/whatever-the-magical-amount-is-today.  But, what the heck, here are the first lines of my published works and some of my works-in-progress that have completed drafts.:

  1. From the piclano I’d walked into Scorig’s house, I’d known something was wrong. — “Once A Hero, Always A Hero”
  2. “You’re a guardian faeshir, aren’t you?” Lyndsey asked, seeing the expert swordsmanship of the rebel woman fighting by her side. — The Crown of Eldrete
  3. The klaxons blared, awakening Mithoska Jake Kavaliro from his sleep. — Jake’s Last Mission
  4. I took a deep, centering breath before walking into the High Chancellor’s office. — No More Lies

  5. “Did I overhear you saying you’re looking for someone to look after your pets while you’re gone?” I asked Renata as she sat cleaning her sword. — Ren and Quinn, Hopefully Final Version  (My working titles are awesome, aren’t they?)

  6. I was up, dressed, and buckling a knife around my waist before the person at my door hit the buzzer a second time. — Jake’s Last Mission, Expansion

  7. “This better be your twisted idea of a joke,” I said, glaring at Quirino. — Jake Becomes Mithoska

Based on just first lines, I don’t think I’d be interested in any of those.  But, based strictly on the first line, even The Hobbit doesn’t fare well.  It’s actual first line is just “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”  The rest of what people quote all the time as its first line?  Those are separate sentences!

So maybe there’s something to the first paragraph theory. Let’s see how my first paragraphs look:

  1. From the piclano I’d walked into Scorig’s house, I’d known something was wrong. The little Zeipieran was constantly flitting his eyes to the windows or door of his tiny, one room shack and jumping a bit every time there was a sudden noise. From Vik’s body language, I could tell he’d noticed too. I tried not to worry about it. I was out of the saving people business. Karen and the kids had talked me into retiring from SDFSF about a year and a half before. I was there to complete the insanely intricate ritual required before we could get permission to serve Scorig’s brandy and then go home. Someone else could deal with whatever he was worried about.  — “Once A Hero, Always A Hero”
  2. “You’re a guardian faeshir, aren’t you?” Lyndsey asked, seeing the expert swordsmanship of the rebel woman fighting by her side. And a Kavaliro, or at least someone who learned from one, at that, she thought, but didn’t say in case she was wrong. — The Crown of Eldrete
  3. The klaxons blared, awakening Mithoska Jake Kavaliro from his sleep. He pulled his clothes on, as he ran to the comm, thinking his new second-in-command was just being jumpy again. “What’s the problem this time?” — Jake’s Last Mission (Yes, I see the unneeded comma.  I fixed one punctuation error in that sentence and seem to have created another that no one caught.  Oops.)
  4. I took a deep, centering breath before walking into the High Chancellor’s office.  I was scared – no, I was fucking terrified – but there was no way I was going to let him see that.  Not today, not with the rumors I’d been hearing.  By the time I approached His High Assholeness’ desk, I was the very picture of a calm, collected, highly trained assassin. — No More Lies

  5. Ren and Quinn, Hopefully Final Version’s first line is the entire first paragraph.
  6. I was up, dressed, and buckling a knife around my waist before the person at my door hit the buzzer a second time.  “Come in,” I said, hoping I didn’t look or sound as half-asleep as I still felt. — Jake’s Last Mission, Expansion

  7. Jake Becomes Mithoska’s first line is also the entire first paragraph.

Hmm . . . based on just the first paragraphs, I’d read “Once A Hero” and No More Lies for sure.  Still doesn’t look like my stories have the best beginnings though.  One more experiment, this time looking at the first 200(ish) words (which is frequently given as the amount of words you have to hook or lose a reader.  I think this is because this is the number of words the average person reads in a minute.):

  1. From the piclano I’d walked into Scorig’s house, I’d known something was wrong. The little Zeipieran was constantly flitting his eyes to the windows or door of his tiny, one room shack and jumping a bit every time there was a sudden noise. From Vik’s body language, I could tell he’d noticed too. I tried not to worry about it. I was out of the saving people business. Karen and the kids had talked me into retiring from SDFSF about a year and a half before. I was there to complete the insanely intricate ritual required before we could get permission to serve Scorig’s brandy and then go home. Someone else could deal with whatever he was worried about.

    Of course things couldn’t stay that simple though. We were barely through the second nulaire of the ritual when suddenly three large Humans bust down the door. “Lerexit is out of brandy,” one of them said, a bald guy with a large knife on his belt and a blaster that I bet he thought was hidden making a bulge in the back of his jacket.

    “I told you! I have no more! Come back next gheli!” Scorig squeaked as his mottled pink skin began to ooze a clear fluid. — “Once A Hero, Always A Hero”

  2. “You’re a guardian faeshir, aren’t you?” Lyndsey asked, seeing the expert swordsmanship of the rebel woman fighting by her side. And a Kavaliro, or at least someone who learned from one, at that, she thought, but didn’t say in case she was wrong.

    “I was the junior guardian faeshir at the local temple until these bastards took it,” she paused as she sent yet another foe to meet the spirits. “Name’s Taliza Kavaliro.”

    Lyndsey grinned as she dispatched two more of the Neo-Imperialists. “Lyndsey Katherine Kavaliro-Blue, at your service.” She inclined her head slightly as she said it, the closest she could come in current circumstances to her usual bow with a flourish.

    Taliza’s smile broadened. “Cousins, then?”

    “Probably of some sort. I’m Kalem’s great-great-granddaughter, ” Lyndsey said, stabbing a foe in the heart.

    “And I’m Mina’s … Kalem’s sister,” the young faeshir said as she disemboweled the final Neo-Imperialist. “Messy. I always hate doing that.”

    “The way he was coming at you, what choice did you have?” Lyndsey asked, wiping her blade carefully before sheathing it.

    “True,” Taliza said sadly as she recited prayers over their fallen foes. Lyndsey stayed respectfully quiet, though she followed a different religious path herself. — The Crown of Eldrete

     

  3. The klaxons blared, awakening Mithoska Jake Kavaliro from his sleep. He pulled his clothes on, as he ran to the comm, thinking his new second-in-command was just being jumpy again. “What’s the problem this time?”

    Jevan, the new second-in-command, looked nervous. “I thought I could handle it,” the much younger man muttered, not looking his commanding officer in the eye.

    “You thought you could handle what exactly?”

    “There’s a Mugdaran ship with its weapons trained on us,” Jevan said.

    Jake’s glare got even more intense. “Mugdaran? You sure?”

    “Yes. A Telikmid, to be exact.”

    “Tell me the rest when I get there.”

    Jake darted to the bridge surprisingly fast for a man of his size and age. “Weapons ready?” he asked his weapons officer as soon as he stepped in the door.

    As the Quilloid trilled an affirmative, Jake turned to Jevan. “Start explaining and make it quick.”

    “They came out of hyperspace about fifteen saenead ago and didn’t try to hail us first or anything. They just pointed their weapons at us. I tried to hail them, but they aren’t responding. I sounded the alarm after they ignored my third attempt.” — Jake’s Last Mission

  4. I took a deep, centering breath before walking into the High Chancellor’s office.  I was scared – no, I was fucking terrified – but there was no way I was going to let him see that.  Not today, not with the rumors I’d been hearing.  By the time I approached His High Assholeness’ desk, I was the very picture of a calm, collected, highly trained assassin.

    “You wanted to see me, High Chancellor?” I asked.  He was expecting me to try something stupid, that was clear from the blaster he had casually laying in front of him.  He knew me too well.  I said a quick, silent prayer for patience and self-control.

    “Yes.  I have a mission for you, a very straightforward one:  Arrange for Kenshin Kenodori to meet with an untimely demise.  Immediately.”  He didn’t yell the last word, that wasn’t his style, but it was a near thing.

    “Kill Kenshin?” I asked incredulously, calling on years of training to keep worry and fear from showing in either my voice or expression.  “What kind of joke is this?”

    The High Chancellor smiled evilly.  “Oh, I think you know this isn’t a joke, taverlot.  You know exactly what he’s been doing, don’t you?” — No More Lies 

  5. “Did I overhear you saying you’re looking for someone to look after your pets while you’re gone?” I asked Renata as she sat cleaning her sword.

    She nodded.  “Yeah.  Why?  You know someone who could?”  She studied the blade and frowned at something I couldn’t see.

    “It just happens that I do.  And that someone also could use a place to stay for a bit,” I said, smiling endearingly.

    She rolled her eyes.  “Really?  Would this someone happen to be a sexy Ruvellian noble who just got kicked out by the last person whose place he was crashing at because he . . . let’s see, how did it go?  Oh, right.  Because he ‘is a picky asshole who’s always giving relationship advice, whether it’s wanted or not’?”

    I had the decency to look a bit ashamed of myself.  “Yes, that would be the very person I had in mind.  Altair exaggerated a bit, by the way.  I never gave him relationship advice.  I merely pointed out — one night when he was complaining about a very long lack of female companionship in his life — some things he could do to improve that situation.”  I paused, still confused by his response.  “Apparently I was supposed to ‘be a supportive friend’ and not give advice.” — Ren and Quinn, Hopefully Final Version

  6. I was up, dressed, and buckling a knife around my waist before the person at my door hit the buzzer a second time.  “Come in,” I said, hoping I didn’t look or sound as half-asleep as I still felt.

    Bowing his head reverentially, the emperor’s aide at my door said, “Your Majesty, your presence is requested in the palace at once.”

    I must still be dreaming, I thought.  I shook my head hard, trying to clear sleep from my mind . . . or force myself to wake up if this was a dream.  “Repeat that.  I must have misunderstood you.”

    “Your presence is requested in the palace at once, Your Majesty.”

    No!  I’m not ready! I thought treacherously.  Hoping my face hadn’t shown my momentary doubt that I deserved the honor of being Emperor of the Mugdarans, I said, perfectly calmly, “Lead the way.”

    At the door of the palace we were challenged by two guards and a priest.  “Who dares come at this sacred time?” the priest asked as the guards half drew their blasters.

    I spoke as clearly and loudly as I could as I said for the first time the title that I would bear until my death.  “Emperor Kristark Zadeem Hulvim kir Pladeen zakir Vethane shakir Nelvidi.” — Jake’s Last Mission, Expansion

  7. “This better be your twisted idea of a joke,” I said, glaring at Quirino.

    “I’m afraid it’s not, Jake,” he said.  “Rosanna’s ship was destroyed before anyone could get to escape pods.  So, you’re the mithoska of the fleet now.”

    “Why me?  What about—”

    He interrupted me.  “Because you’re a bossy son of a bitch and damned good at making Dichidian ships fall out of the sky.”

    I couldn’t argue with that.  If I hadn’t been a bossy son of a bitch, I wouldn’t be commanding the best ship in the whole damned fleet.  If I wasn’t good at destroying Dichidian ships, I wouldn’t be there to have this conversation with him.  “Well . . . fuck,” I said, running my hand through my hair.  “I was supposed to be going home for a bit over Winter Fest, you know.”

    “I’m sorry,” he said, sounding sincere.  Hell, he probably was.  I was pissed at him right then, but he is a damned nice guy.

    “Vali ain’t gonna be happy.”

    *****

    “Hey, beautiful,” I said, trying to force a smile when I managed to get a call through to her a few nulaire later.

    “Hi,” she said, sounding about as downcast as I felt.  “I heard about Rosanna’s ship.  You’re the new mithoska, aren’t you?” — Jake Becomes Mithoska

Now, to be bluntly honest with myself, I wouldn’t keep reading “Once A Hero” . . . I’ve already seen too many little things that bug me.  (I’m not revising it again.  I’ll fix the spelling errors and some of the most glaring punctuation ones, but that’s it, lest I go full George Lucas and never fucking stop tinkering with the damned thing.)  I can’t judge The Crown of Eldrete fairly because know what the beginning could (and should, arguably) have been instead of what it is, but if it was somebody else’s book, I’d probably keep reading.  I’d keep reading Jake’s Last Mission, No More Lies , and Jake’s Last Mission, Expansion for sure.  I might keep reading Ren and Quinn and Jake Becomes Mithoska, depending on my mood.  But . . . and here’s where I break with convention author wisdom . . . just because I say that based on the first 200 words doesn’t mean I’d keep reading until the end.  It also doesn’t mean I’d even read to the end of the sample.  Which means it definitely doesn’t mean I’d necessarily buy the books.  That’s why every single word counts.  Make them all as good as you can, not just the first whatever.

So, out of curiosity, which of my works would you want to read, based on the first 200 words?

 

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