In my continuing search for the magic formula for writing the perfect first line, here is another “guideline” that makes a great deal of sense. Vivid, as I discussed in my last post is good. It is eye catching. It makes the reader stop and look. However, once you get them to stop and look you want them to step into your story. Think of the vivid aspect as the look across the crowded room.


                                                                                  Hey, Baby.


Now that you have their attention, what next? You don’t want to spend the rest of the evening standing by the bar with a Cosmopolitan in your hand listening to Irvil in accounting talk about compound interest. You’ll end up going home with sore feet from wearing those stilettos and a crease across your middle from the Spanx.

The next thing to check your opening line for is the invitation. Vivid is good, but so is that ugly Christmas sweater your Aunt Gertrude knitted for you. You want your first line to be vivid AND inviting.

Come on over to my place.

Something about that first line has to drag your reader into the pages of your book. It has to quickly pique the reader’s curiosity. Sort of like blue flashing lights up ahead on the interstate. What’s happening up here?


Great first lines instantly invite us into an image.


Here a couple of examples of images in first lines. Do these make you want to drop that load of laundry, that appointment with the dentist and read on? Why or why not?


Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral.

  It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips



The naked man swayed back and forth, his ankles bound by duct tape and rope to a massive hook suspended from the ceiling.

  Circle of Deception by Carla Swafford      




Telling a bar full of people your sister’s abusive husband needs to be neutered is all fun and games until the man ends up on your front porch minus his frank and beans.

G-Men and Gators by Louisa Cornell (Not yet published!)




So, how about it, first liners! Let us see your most inviting images, first lines that make us want to lurch over that welcome mat right into the middle of the party.


  1. Lydia Stevens says:

    “What makes you the ideal candidate for the Assistant Librarian of the Special Projects Division?”

    (For context purposes here are the next two lines from this opening scene)

    I try not to look at the fine, gray hairs on the puckered upper lip of Mrs. Engleman, the Head Librarian of the New York Public Library. Age lines quiver around her mouth, distracting me from answering her question. I’ve been sitting here the last half hour wondering when this nightmare of an interview will be over.

    • Lydia,

      This is some great imagery! Actually, I would put the imagery first and the dialogue second. That imagery in the description of the librarian makes me want to know what is going on, it is relatable and once I know it is a job interview I am in. We have all had one of those and being a voyeur into someone else’s is a great entry into the story!

  2. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    Frank and beans… *snort*

    Your examples are great! I admit, I sometimes like to open with dialogue.

    “The Devil is a foot.”
    Coire Fletcher might have laughed at the irony in Mr. Shaw’s remark had he not felt the same slick unease slithering up his spine.

    • That is a great way to start! I do that as well. And a short piece of intriguing dialogue like that makes me want to know exactly WHAT is afoot! And the imagery of unease slithering up his spine makes us want to know why! I’m in!

  3. Kate Parker says:

    Louisa, have we brought you over to the dark side? I hope so!

    My first line (very preliminary) is:
    A summons to Sir Henry Benton’s office was one thing: a summons on behalf of Sir Malcolm Freemantle was quite another.

    • LOL, Kate! Yes, I am afraid my contemporary voice is several steps over onto the dark side. BAWAHAHAHA!!

      And that first line creates a definite “RUH RO!” moment. I want to know WHY the addition of Sir Malcolm Freemantle’s name makes a difference!

  4. Ha! Great opening lines, Louisa!!! SEP is a master. Wow. And yours is fantastic! Wonderful post!

  5. Rachel Alexander Grilliot says:

    These are the opening lines of dialogue for the novel I’ve been picking away at for years. Many things have changed, but these have stayed fairly constant.

    “Damn it! Why do I even bother wearing nice things?”
    “Why in the world are you wearing those stupid things anyway,” Zach asked as my high heels sink into the mud.
    “Well I wasn’t exactly planning on slogging it through fields when I got dressed this morning,” I retort.

  6. LOL I love your first line, Louisa. Can I be a beta reader? Yup love it that much.

    Great blog!

  7. I like this Rachel. The only change I might make is to start with what Zach says then add the first line to the end of what she says. His first line really paints a picture of HIM and he situation!


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