Epic First Lines

So, I come today seeking an apology.

In one of my previous vlog posts, I mentioned the second most important part of writing a novel, but I didn’t give any attention to the first: Epic First Lines.

This is the snag, the catch, the trap that all authors must carefully set if they are going to hook the reader in and get them into the rich, deep world they spent so much time crafting.

In this blog, I’m going to throw out some of my favorite opening lines, then give you the two opening lines for the novels I’m currently working on, Critical and Deathless.


The first one, and it’s the first one that I use as an example when I’m asked about first lines, is from Jim Butcher’s Blood Rites:

The building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault.

Who could ignore a line like that? It begs so many questions. Does this mean there were buildings on fire that were his fault? Does the character worry that people would think it was his fault? Was he in the building, on the building, beside the building? What kind of building? The reader is pretty much left with no choice but to continue on.

Or consider JRR Tolkien’s opening to The Hobbit:

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.

This one also asks questions, but doesn’t invite the same aggression that Jim Butcher did. What is a hobbit? What kind of hole? What kind of creature lives in the hole that warrants its own story? Tolkien immediately invites us to explore. And a paragraph later we are rewarded with a view of just exactly what a hobbit hole can be:


Lastly, I turn your attention to the master of horror himself, Howard Phillip Lovecraft in his most widely known story, The Call of Cthulhu:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.


I think everyone who reads that has only one question on their mind: What have I gotten myself into? When was I supposed to recognize I had fallen down this bizarre rabbit-hole? This opening line pushes us right to the boundary of what voyage we were on circling that placid island. Then, like most of HP Lovecraft’s work, we are forced to ponder things bigger than history, larger than science, and more monstrous than any pantheon could create. We know we are likely to be disturbed by what we see, but we continue looking at it like some car accident.

So, that’s the scope of the task that befalls all writers.

What are some of your favorite first lines?

I leave you with the first lines of my current works in progress:

From Critical, my 1950’s dieselpunk, gender-swap, radioactive Les Mis:

“You are here because you have chosen to be useless to society.”

And from my high school kid died and can walk between life and post-mortal life miracle worker novel, Deathless:

I’m dead. Dead, dead dead. No really, I have died. I’m deceased, extinguished, passed on, pushing daisies, six feet under, departed, and gone. Well… kinda. I’ll explain later.


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