Best First Line

The voting over at RT’s American Title contest has started, with the Best First Line competition: take a look at the finalists.

Which do you like? I’m torn between Out of Sight and, oddly enough, Out Of Sight, Out of Mind.

And, while I’m on the subject, what’s your favorite first line of a romance novel?

To be honest, I usually don’t notice the first line, though I was struck by Eloisa James’ first line of An Affair Before Christmas (due out in December this year):

Ice hung from windowsills with a glitter that rivaled glass, and new snow turned the sooty streets to rivers of milk.

A bit of a mixed bag of imagery, but snow turning streets to rivers of milk? I dig that, partially because I’m hoping for big ol’ snowfall this year and when there is enough snow on the ground, the analogy is apt (and I won’t mention the subtle sexual undertone of the image, either).

What about you?


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  1. 1
    Krissie says:

    These were the finalists for the contest?  Ugh. Only a few are readable. I also liked “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” and “The Magic Knot.”

    Some of these never should have made it to the finals just based on really dreadful writing and horrible first lines.

    But a few seem quite good. I just think the decision should be harder and not so obvious. I should have been struggling to choose the best line here…

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    I agree totally. Some of them were dry as Wassa crackers – whole grain variety.

  3. 3
    Alison S says:

    Surely the best first line of a romance novel has to be the most famous one? I mean “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife” – or words to that effect, that’s from memory – which (if anyone doesn’t know) is the first line of “Pride and Prejudice”. It’s not only witty and apposite but also more or less sums up the whole book, too. Or is there another, more famous, contender?

  4. 4
    Krissie says:

    “They call me Ishmael.”

  5. 5
    Krissie says:

    Well, I’m the dope…I read right over the ROMANCE novel part. DUH!

    Yes, I would say P&P has the most famous opening line for a romance novel…

  6. 6

    I still love “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderlay again.”

  7. 7
    Teddy Pig says:

    Actually I do love a perfect intro here’s a few of my favs…

    The letter came at a time in his life when the battle inside his soul could have tipped either way.

    This is the way the world ends.

    He didn’t actually see the wall until he walked into it.

  8. 8
    AmandaG says:

    Wow, there are two people local to me in that contest. I recognized one name from the local RWA chapter website.

  9. 9
    darlynne says:

    Without looking at the titles initially, apparently I’m in agreement with you, Sarah, about “Out of Sight” and “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” I also thought “Prince of Darkness” was worthy, but would re-work it to read: “Like the dull blade of a garden hoe on hard ground, graceless and uneven, the dagger cut through the air.” But that’s just me because, although I love paranormal books, the mention of a dagger right out of the gate makes my eyes roll or tear or something.

    I have to say, however, some bad, bad, bad character names. Harrison Chevalier threw me right out of whatever I was supposed to be reading.

    And, since I seem to be in one of those moods: I have no idea who Leslie Kazanjian is, but for the love of all that’s holy, has she ever met an opening line she DIDN’T like? They can’t all be fine, she can’t possibly love them all, unless she’s aiming to be the Harriet Klausner of opening lines.

  10. 10
    darlynne says:

    “The most beautiful women in the world were African.” From Martin Cruz Smith’s “Rose.”

  11. 11
    Wry Hag says:

    I’d agree with your picks, Sarah…I mean, if I absolutely had to choose.  But, sheesh, what a miserable selection of finalists.  What’s with RT?  Stuff like this rather undermines their credibility, I’d say.  (I cruised through their reviews and arrived at the same conclusion.  Probably 92% of the books got three- and four-star or better ratings.  Can’t be that many good ones out there!)

  12. 12
    TracyS says:

    From the finalists, my favorite is from Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

    My favorite first lines are:

    “Where was she and where the hell were her clothes?” from Awaken to Danger by Catherine Mann


    “Mark Jenkins was having a meltdown.”  from Into the Storm by Suzanne Brockmann.  That one is more because I’ve been reading the whole Navy SEAL series and that’s a great first line for a book about a rough, tough Navy SEAL. LOL

  13. 13
    Trish says:

    Sarah, thanks for the post about the contest and the mention of my first line.

    Darlynne, I believe the reason that Leslie’s comments are on the super kind side is her part to play in this is that of Paula Abdul. Paula is criticized because she’s too easy on the American Idol contestants, so that’s the role Leslie is assuming in this contest. According to her bio on the site, she used to be an editor with several houses including Pocket and Harlequin/Silhouette but is now a freelance editor and book doctor.

  14. 14
    Jill Monroe says:

    I agree with the Out of Sight line – scary because now I feel validated for having those feelings while standing in line at the bank!

  15. 15
    Lisa says:

    Gah. So that’s why i don’t think there are very many good books anymore. Most of those lines SUCKED. Seriously, seriously sucked. I’d have to go through my books to find first lines from romances, but my favorite so far from any genre is: “The man in black fled into the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

  16. 16
    darlynne says:

    That will teach me to read first and then post. Thanks, Trish, for pointing out the American Idol context. Guess that would make me Simon.

  17. 17
    Chrissy says:

    These were bad.  And rivers of milk should only be accompanied but big assed buckets of corn flakes.

    I didn’t see anything that didn’t absolutely SHRIEK “trying too hard.”


  18. 18
    Yvonne says:

    I went to my shelf and chose three books at random and what I got is way better than the contenders listed there.

    “Until I met Grace Russo, I did not know that my Lacoste shirts did not have to be dry-cleaned.”
    Full of Grace by Dorthea Benton Frank

    “The room was square and hot, and so was the man sitting at the gray-green metallic desk.”
    Hour of the Hunter by J.A. Jance

    “At the hour of matins, on the 18th of March, in the year of our Lord 1600, and in the darkness of night, I ran away from the convent of San Sebasian el Antiguo.”
    The Woman Who Dared by Richard Erdoes

  19. 19
    Laurel says:

    Out of Sight made me chuckle. It was witty. The others… gads, at first I thought this was like that “Come up with the worst first line for a novel ever” contest.

  20. 20
    Gwynnyd says:

    My first thought on reading these was: Who bribed whom and how much did it cost?  Then sanity prevailed and I realized that poverty of imagination is celebrated these days and best-selling books are expected to follow narrow conventions and everything is supposed to be like everything else.  Opening lines promisinhg stories too different, difficult, or innovative would not appeal to readers who only want to read what they already know they like, so of course “the best” would not actually be “the best”, but would be the openings that promised the books would be the most familiar. 

    I have not read any of these books.  I wonder if they are as banal as they mostly appear, or if the authors are clever enough to hide their gems behind openings that seem to be appealing to an unthreatening expectation?

  21. 21
    Charlene says:

    Are you sure you didn’t confuse the RT competition with the Bulwer-Lytton?

    Also, I can tell you that I am not hoping for a big ol’ snowfall this year. Of course, living in Alberta that’s like not hoping the sun will rise in the east.

  22. 22
    Tammy says:

    I think it’s important to point out that the finalists were not chosen based on their first line. They were chosen based on their complete manuscript that was read by the AT team at Dorchester.

    The first line is just one of 5 elements that the contest puts out to the voters.

  23. 23
    zaza says:

    I am totally with you, Sarah.  Those were my two favorites, and did you notice that the author Out of Sight and the following could be the same person?  ;+)))

  24. 24
    zaza says:

    Eep.  Hi, Trish.  *blushes*  See what I get for not reading the other comments first.  But I did vote for yours, so that makes my evil twins allegation okay, right?

  25. 25
    Lori says:

    My favorite:

    IT WAS SAID she had three lovers.

    From “The Hellion Bride” by Catherine Coulter.

  26. 26
    Susan/DC says:

    My favorite opening line is from Diana Norman’s “The Vizard Mask”, which definitely is romantic, even if not officially categorized as Romance:  “Penitence Hurd and the plague arrived in London on the same day.”  Definitely sets the scene for this Restoration-set story.

  27. 27

    Don’t suppose the first line I wrote a few days ago for the latest Magnum Opus would do it:
    “Jake Keys woke up with a woman’s hand on his cock. He sighed and rolled on to his back, to receive a kiss from the third occupant of his bed.”
    Nah. Two sentences, anyway.

  28. 28
    Lynda the Guppy says:

    Ugh. Most of those were horrible. I did like Out of Sight, and that was mainly because I have so often felt like that. LOL.

    My favorite first line of a book is one of Nora’s. From Carolina Moon:

    “She woke in the body of a dead friend.”

    I’ve always liked that one.

  29. 29
    Cat Marsters says:

    I think my probem with this is it’s like judging a book by its cover—picking a winner by the first line is a terrible way to judge books.  The other 100,000 words could be drivel, but the first line?  And besides, without the context, without the rest of the page or even paragraph, how can you possibly judge it?

    Some good lines there, some not so.

    As for my favourite romance opener, it’s (and I’m doing this from memory so it’s probably wrong) “Scarlett O’Hara was not very beautiful, but men seldom realised it when captivated by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”  That sets up the whole book for me, but I doubt it’d get anywhere in a modern contest.

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