Wednesday, April 30, 2014

First Lines by Joshua Bellin

What’s the line?

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”?

A tautology, to be sure. But there’s some truth to it in the world of literature.

The first thing I do when I pick up a book is read the first line. (Well, duh…. What am I going to do, read the last line?) But seriously, if the first line is good, chances are the book will be good too. That’s not a foolproof test, of course, but I’d say it’s about 95% reliable.

Here are some of my favorite first lines, from some of my favorite books.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit 

“It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.”—Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber 

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein 

“It was a pleasure to burn.”—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”—Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games 

(P.S. I always cite this line when people trot out the old chestnut, “never begin your novel with the main character waking up.”)

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”—Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City 

“At the beginning of the summer I had lunch with my father, the gangster, who was in town for the weekend to transact some of his vague business.”—Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh 

“Querry.”—Joshua David Bellin, Survival Colony 9 

(Okay, I cheated on that one. But it is one of my favorites!)

In life, most of my first lines have been duds. (I think my first line to my future wife was, “Didn’t I see you in the Hartford airport?”) But in literature, I’ve done okay. Maybe that’s because, in literature, you do have a second chance (and a third, and a fourth, and a fortieth) to craft your first line until it’s the one you want.

I’d better end now. I don’t think I’m going to come up with a better line than that. 

Joshua David Bellin’s debut, the YA science-fiction thriller SURVIVAL COLONY 9, comes out September 23 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. Its first line is in fact the main character’s name, Querry. You can connect with Josh on his website,, or on Twitter @TheYAGuy.


  1. I've quoted Hunger Games too. A great first line will get me to read the first page. If it's great too, then I have to keep reading. Which I would do if I picked up Survival Colony 9, because I want to know who Querry is.

  2. So now I'm intrigued. What's a querry? I looked it up and it said quer'ry and it meant a groom.

    But yes, first lines are very telling and fun to explore. :)

  3. Some people DO read the last line first ... sigh ... ;) NOT ME.