How To Write An Epic First Line

How To Write An Epic First Line

Do you want to write an epic first line for your story? In this post, we tell you how to do it – with examples.

How To Write An Epic First Line

In the previous post we spoke about how to write an epic first page. In this post I want to spend a bit more time talking about the first lines.

Read all the posts in this series here:

  1. How To Write An Epic First Page
  2. How To Write An Epic First Line
  3. How To Write An Epic First Scene
  4. How To Make The First Time We Meet A Character Epic

Some writers seem to have an innate talent for creating epic first line after epic first line. The rest of us…we need to work at it.

Your first line sets the tone for the scene and ultimately the book. You need to grab your reader’s attention and keep it. A first line should make the reader ask a question.

First lines rarely appear perfectly formed. They are written and rewritten several times. Below, you will see the first lines from the books we started discussing in the previous post. They are as varied as the stories themselves, but they all give us an inkling of what we can expect.

1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Opening line: ‘Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.’

This story is all about keeping up appearances and the inevitable gossip one finds in such a community. The use of the word ‘everyone’ and the ambiguity of the speaker is typical of gossipy conversation. Needless to say, a teenage arsonist is just the kind of thing the gossip mill devours.

2. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Opening line: ‘The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh’s moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog.’

She starts with the weather. How often have you been told: don’t start with the weather? We follow the rules, until we have a concrete reason not to. The setting plays a huge part in the book. Kya’s voice and her relationship to the marsh is so integral to the story that this works.

3. Children Of Blood And Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Opening line: ‘Pick me.’         

Who hasn’t whispered those words? For a second you were standing on the playground again waiting for your name to be called. We can all relate. It’s when we realise that she wants to be picked to fight that we become intrigued.

4. Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Opening line: ‘When Margery was ten, she fell in love with a beetle.’

This is so perfectly proper and British, which suits the story and Margery to the tee. It also leaves no doubt about her love for the beetle. The oddness of it introduces her beautifully.

5. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Opening line: ‘Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband.’

This line suits the clinical nature of the speaker. It is a statement. He does not leave any room for doubt, but we immediately want to know what happened.

Now, how do you write an epic first line?

How To Write An Epic First Line

Exercise 1:

  1. Find a blank page, preferably A4.
  2. Fold the paper in half, the long way. You’ll have two thin columns.
  3. Find your favourite pen.
  4. Write down your current first line.
  5. Keep writing variations of this line until you have filled the first column. There are no rules, be silly, be serious, overdo the alliteration. Try to find as many different ways to say the same thing.
  6. Fill the second column.
  7. Turn over the page and fill the third and fourth columns.
  8. Don’t stop until all four columns are complete.
  9. Read through your lists and highlight your favourites.
  10. Repeat as required using the favourite lines.

You can also do this on a computer but writing by hand broadens the creative scope of the exercise and delivers better results.

Exercise 2:

Borrow the structure of existing lines. Find the line you like the most and that suits your story or genre and rewrite it. Don’t copy. That sucks, but use it as a base. I made rough templates using the stories above. Again, don’t copy anyone’s work. This is a starting point, make yours as different as possible. Think of it as a master plot for first lines.

1. (Group name)_________________in ________________ was/were__________________(verb/adjective/adverb) about it that _______________(time): when/how_______(person) had___________________________(action).

Example: The people in the village were wary of Little James. They all talked about it after the moon fell and how Little James put it back in the sky.

2. The (time of day) _________________ was/is so_______________ the(place)___________’s________________ . He/she (verb)___________________noun + noun.

Example: The night was inky black when the moon fell at James’ feet. He picked up the milky orb and threw it back into the sky. 

3. When (name or event)______________ (verb), __________ (name) was _____________. She/he ________________ (verb) _________.

Example: When the moon fell, little James was smiling. He knew it was time. 

4. _________ ____________(Phrasal verb/Command)

Example: Look there. The moon is falling.  

5. (Name)____________________was_______________________ (verb) when_____________________.

Example: Little James was dancing when the moon fell from the sky.

Exercise 3:

Look at your favourite stories. How do they start?

  1. Narrative?
  2. Dialogue?
  3. With the weather/setting?
  4. With a young protagonist?

The Last Word

These are all clues that will help you write your own first line. Why do you think the author chose to emphasise that part of the story?

Further reading: Here are some more great opening lines to inspire you.

Look out for how to write an epic first scene in my next post, and re-read my previous post on how to write an epic first page.

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Mia Botha by Mia Botha

Want to put all of this into action?

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If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. How To Write An Epic First Page
  2. 31 Writing prompts For December 2020
  3. Can You Write 52 Scenes In 52 Weeks?
  4. What Is An Author Platform & Why Do I Need One?
  5. Traditional Publishing – Part Three
  6. Traditional Publishing – Part Two
  7. Traditional Publishing – Part One

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 2nd December 2020

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