The first line of a novel is important. The author has to capture the reader at once; the reader must be intrigued from the start, or startled, or mystified, and they must want to read on. Here are the first lines of my published novels, starting with my 1996 debut.
Using sheets of corrugated iron to construct a barrier, Zinina was able to contain the expanse of poison-specked foliage as it tumbled down the stairs of the house.
Here I wanted to begin with the action. The poisonous plants are described as being inside the house, while Zinina at once has something difficult to deal with (she only just escapes). Already the essentials of life in the city of Kray – plants opposing people in a challenging environment – are set up.
The Reeve of Cray lived in a spherical chamber located in the heart of the Archive of Noct.
Not the greatest of opening lines I have to admit, but at least there’s some mystery in the description of a spherical chamber, and then there’s the unusual name of the Archive of Noct, while readers of Memory Seed will grasp that the name Cray is almost identical to Kray.
Manserphine peeped around a corner and saw a single woman in pastel blue armour that twinkled like summersky opal standing alert at the entrance to her goal.
Again I begin a novel by dropping the reader straight into the action. Manserphine is clearly on a mission and has a goal, but she is opposed by the woman in the pastel blue armour. I liked that image of unusually coloured armour, and it felt right to begin with it.
The Empress of Ghana awaited the creature of bioplas and metal who was her most feared servant, I-C-U Tompieme, the red and white one, the android of the aether trusted with her most important secrets.
Certain key words set up the near-future scenario here: bioplas, android, aether. A mystery and two main characters are set up in the first line – the royal empress and the feared android (both of whom act against the two main viewpoint characters of the novel). The unusual setting of Africa is implied by the Empress’ home country of Ghana.
It is 2049, one hundred years exactly since Edgar Varese composed “Deserts”, the first piece of electronic music.
This line is more of an atmosphere setting than one implying action. The year is given, the theme of the novel – music – and a specific detail to tantalise the reader, that of the first piece of electronic music.
For the one-thousandth morning I looked out from the window of my cell to see narcoleptic snow lying heavy upon the ground.
Although this novel does begin with action (the escape of Psolilai from her cell), in this opening line there is a mixture of implied action – escape – and setting, with the idea of the prison cell and narcoleptic snow.