The First Line


‘The ability to trust in the difficult. The tenacity to understand that it takes time and patience to succeed.’ Colm McCann, novelist and professor of creative writing.

It wasn’t until a couple of reviews mentioned their love for the first line of my novel ‘In the Light of Madness’, that I realised how important a first line can be. Here is the opening to the book…

‘Gravestones jutted out of the ground like candles on a birthday cake. They marked an occasion in a person’s life, but were ultimately forgotten once the ceremony was over’.

When I received the manuscript back from my editor, I noticed he’d made a comment about the opening lines, and I panicked, thinking if I couldn’t even get that right, what must he have thought about the whole novel? Images of red pen marks pelted my mind. However, he was complimenting me on the lines – which is something to treasure from an editor!

But I’ll admit this now, it wasn’t the original first line when I wrote the first draft. No, it came to me much later, after I’d already completed the novel and was into the editing stage before sending it off to my editor. How blissful it would be if sentences like these spewed onto the page the moment we hit the keyboard. In reality, it’s not like this, so we should stop being hard on ourselves.

I read an article by Colm McCann in The Guardian (12th May, 2017) where he used the analogy of a house for your opening page. The first sentence is the doorway, and the reader has stepped inside, you can show them around the rest of the house, letting the story unfold slowly.

I will leave you with his comments, as I could not say this in a better way. ‘Open elegantly. Open fiercely. Open delicately. Open with surprise. Open with everything at stake.’ How could I possibly improve on that?

As a gentle nudge, may I show you the opening lines to my latest novel, ‘The Reluctant Mother’. See what you think…

‘I don’t know how I ended up here; I didn’t mean for this to happen to me. It’s supposed to be the start of a new life as a family, but now I barely know or care who I am.’

Happy Word Flow One & All


6 thoughts on “The First Line

  1. Yes, that is a good opening line.

    As reader we never know whether the opening line
    was indeed that or whether it came much later to the writer in the bath.

    One can never know where or when the first line is written for any novel.
    I think that is what holds back novice writers. They never start because
    they think the first line has to be an outstanding piece of writing when in fact it
    might just be one word.

    Charles Dickens:
    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

    ‘Bleak House’, is one of my favourite opening lines.

    A suggestion for your latest line, swap it around:

    ‘ It’s supposed to be the start of a new life as a family, but now I barely know or care who I am.
    I don’t know how I ended up here; I didn’t mean for this to happen to me.



    • Thank you for your insightful comment, and I agree with you and the Dickens quote – he knew how to write them. I wonder how many drafts he wrote before the opening line hit him?
      Thank you for your suggestion about my own opening, but I’m afraid it’s too late as the book came out on the 7th June. I will always bear the first line of a novel in the forefront of my mind, from now on.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Re: Dickens; yes who knows how many drafts he was into that segment for the book.
    He did write in single chapters which were released. I do not know enough about him
    but I am sure he was publishing some of the books a chapter at a time.

    Still, it could be he thought of that that line when he had finished his outline.



  3. One more thought.
    Jack Kerouac, ‘On the Road’

    Are you aware of that novel?
    He wrote the book in three weeks 🙂

    He did need drugs to keep him awake
    so I wouldn’t necessarily advise that 🙂

    His opening line:

    “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.”


  4. I have heard of the book, so I looked it up online and I’m now adding to my wishlist – thank you for pointing this out to me.

    Oh to have his skill of writing a book so quickly 🙂

    And for my sanity, I shall stay away from drugs, bar the odd toffee vodka over ice in the evening 🙂

    I feel you should have written this blog post! Thank you for engaging so much 🙂


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