I’m a sucker for a great first line. I have a mental collection of my favorites, and today I’m adding a new line to that list. Rather than simply gush, I’m going to break down the first few paragraphs of my current read, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee. Hopefully, this exercise will help you improve your own opening lines.
First line: “So I didn’t handle the mugging as well as I could have.”
This tells us several things right away. First, there’s a mugging going on. Second, the narrator regrets how she responded. (We don’t know for sure that she’s a girl yet, but we’ll learn that in the next paragraph.) Third, the tone of this sentence suggests that this character has a humorous way of looking at the world and the situations she’s in.
Solid opening, right? But it gets better. The story continues:
“I would have known what to do it I’d been the victim. Hand over everything quietly. Run away as fast as possible. Go for the eyes if I was cornered. I’d passed the optional SafeStrong girl’s defense seminar at school with flying colors.”
All of a sudden, this mugging scene has been turned on its head. Our narrator isn’t the victim. Also, we know she’s level-headed during a confrontation, she took a self-defense class, and she’s not afraid to fight when necessary. At this point, you’re probably really curious. What’s going on?
Yee doesn’t waste any time with internal monologues or unnecessary descriptions. She puts us in that scene right away with the next lines:
“But we’d never covered what to do when you see six grown men stomping the utter hell out of a boy your age in broad daylight. It was a Tuesday morning, for god’s sake. I was on my way to school, the kid was down on the ground, and the muggers were kicking him like their lives depended on it. They weren’t even trying to take his money.”
Here we see more of the narrator’s humor in the tone and language used, and get a brief but detailed description of the situation. A high school student (their ages aren’t explicitly stated, but are implied by the tone and diction) witnesses another teen getting beat up by six adults. When I read this, I immediately asked myself, what would I do in this situation? Would I confront six much larger men attacking a kid?
At this point, I know everything I need to know. I’m invested in this story. I want to know who this boy is, why he’s being attacked, and how the narrator handles the situation. (She says she could have handled it better, so what did she do that she wishes she’d done differently?)
I haven’t finished The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, but so far, it is everything those first lines promise it will be. Full of action and a badass girl with a snarky/humorous outlook, and unexpected (but not to the point that they stretch belief) situations like stumbling upon a mugging on the way to school.
I hope this exercise has helped you see ways to improve your own opening lines. Do you have any favorite openings? Please share in the comments!