First Lines

I thought I’d do a little exercise today, taking the first line from the stories I’ve written so far and comparing them, trying to work out if any of them have any worth and how they stand against each other.

This first one is from a short story I recently wrote and sent off for consideration:

Her baby was crying.

It doesn’t tell you much like that, but I’m ending these at the first sentence. It’s quite a departure from some of the others however, mostly the ones written much earlier, that last far too long.

The next is from a book I got about half way through before deciding the story wasn’t going anywhere, although looking through it during this exercise I might have to pick it up and see if it’s worth continuing:

The stagnant smell of damp erupted from the ground vents and hit the noses of ten or so disgusted people walking the rat-infested streets of what was once the proud city of London.

It builds a scene, although I reckon that the word disgusted is probably redundant there, given I’ve already qualified the smell as stagnant.

The next is one I wrote at the same time and stopped at the same time for the same reasons. Looking over it I think I could probably salvage this one, but I’d have to give it a severe read through first:

Within the bounds of Ramses II’s mighty hand, along the banks of the Blue Nile, agriculture thrived across the fertile soils of the tributary; the farmers of Ancient Egypt knew the river’s wrath, but also they knew of its beauty, they predicted when it would flood, and made preparations, keeping an efficient and seemingly sustainable system.

It doesn’t sound like fiction really, does it? I was quite proud of that line when I wrote it but now it feels too long and not exciting enough. Perhaps I’m being overly critical but this one I would struggle to keep if I rescued this story.

The next is from a flash fiction I wrote for a competition (that it didn’t win, or you would have heard about that here):

“He wanted you to have this.” James’ mother said.

I actually quite like this one, because it creates a scenario upfront, but it seems a little cold thinking about it.

The next is from the first book I finished:

Dust and sand fly free across the wasteland of the Nevada desert; an old bomb testing site lies undisturbed far from the nearest human life; a small hut is barely visible through the blasts of dirt, its brown, wooden walls barely holding up against the might of nature.

Too long winded. This whole book is a weird one for me because I was very proud of it when I was done, but nobody could get past the first chapter. Perhaps that should teach me a thing or two.

This one’s from the second book I finished (a couple of weeks ago, actually), and one that I’m waiting a while before I edit:

Her heels clacked against the rough, crumbling remains of the chalk steps of the grand staircase.

I’m not sure about the two ‘of the’s there, or whether we need to know that the steps are rough, but at least it sets the scene. I’m pretty sure the story gets better than that, but having not read it over yet in order to gain some distance… I wouldn’t really know.

The last one’s from a short story I finished two days ago that I have yet to edit:

My name is Sally McGregor, and there is someone in my mirror. I actually started this story because I liked this first line so much, but I am biased, given that I wrote it.

What do you guys think? I like the more pithy ones but I get embarrassed about lines that read like I’ve stuck extra words in for no apparent reason.


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