First Lines

A New Favorite

How important is the first line of a book? Recently, when we played a game called Liebrary* , we learned that

good first lines are not that easy to write. According to the experts, i.e., authors of writing books, the first line should set the mood of the book, show the protagonist in a tough situation, hint at the ending, encapsulate the theme, worry the reader, or all of the above. No wonder writers spend inordinate amounts of time settling on the perfect first line.

But all our family was aiming to do was to have fun with a new game, which we did. The moderator for the round read us the category, title, author, and summary of the book. Then, we had a couple of minutes to write a first line. In this post, I’ll tell you about four books we attacked…er, considered.

First was I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov. Can you pick out his line? (Answers appear at the end.)

Call me robot.

The day James McIntosh announced to the world his success in creating the first positronic brain, Dr. Susan Calvin thought she might be falling in love.

Ordinarily, a robot is only as trustworthy as its programmer.

Professor Heinrich Bostvich is widely regarded as the Father or Robotics, and for good reason.

If you wanted bells and whistles, you shouldn’t have hired a robot.

O, kill him you stupid robot!

Ninety-eight—ninety-nine—one hundred.

Three men greeted him in the office where the murder had been committed; and he was sure one of them was a robot.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
I.
I who?
I, Robot.

I thought I had programmed for all the possibilities, but I was totally unprepared for what was soon to happen.

* * *

Next, here’s what we and William Shakespeare wrote for his play, Much Ado About Nothing. Which line did he write?

What force is this, twixt sunlit day and moonlit night?

“Are we there yet?” Hero asked.

Oh but for a love, for I have none.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Bertram (entering) – Hail Hero!

Of all the doves which ‘round the court do preen,
Which bird wouldst thou prefer to devour?

I learn in this letter than Don Pedro of Arragon comes this night to Messina.

Good sir, I bid thee welcome,
For welcome thou most surely art.

* * *

Next, here’s what we and Raymond Briggs wrote for his book, Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age. Which line is his?

Ug!

Ideas were never my problem, but my mother was.

Ug was eager to climb to the top of the rocky hill after breakfast.

Round and round it goes, what it’s for no one knows.

If Ug couldn’t figure out a problem, he’d try harder, which is how even cave boys can become geniuses.

“Runnng!” went Ug’s alarm-sundial. It was time for a new day.

“This old cave is too drafty!” Ug exclaimed.

“Paper, scissors, rock.”
“Rock”
“Rock”
“Tied again?”

Wug lived with his wife Huggy in a cave and they had a baby boy named Ug.

* * *
Finally, here’s what we and Hugh Lofting wrote for his book, The Story of Doctor Doolittle. Can you identify the line Lofting wrote?

Mrs. Snodgrass was just about more than Dr. Doolittle could take.

Wilda jumped when she saw the python, turned and ran, tripping over a dark furry form on the jungle floor.

Once upon a time, many years ago—when our grandfathers were little children—there was a doctor, and his name was Doolittle—John Doolittle, M.D.

“Heavens! He’s got my hat! The monkey’s got my hat!” squawked the indignant woman.

Dr. Doolittle scowled at his plate of food and said, “How do you expect me to feed my charges with so few greens?”

“I talk to the trees, but they don’t answer,” Doctor Doolittle sang at the top of his lungs.

This is the story of Doctor James Doolittle of 12 Crispwich Crescent, London.

The Doctor ate breakfast with his cat perched on his shoulder so that when he got to the end of a page, Meow would turn to the next one, and the Doctor could continue spreading marmalade on his toast.

* * *

Answers
The first line of I, Robot is: Ninety-eight—ninety-nine—one hundred.

The first line of Much Ado About Nothing is: I learn in this letter than Don Pedro of Arragon comes this night to Messina.

The first line of Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age is: Ug!

The first line of The Story of Dr. Doolittle is: Once upon a time, many years ago—when our grandfathers were little children—there was a doctor, and his name was Doolittle—John Doolittle, M.D.

If you contributed a first line for any of the above when we played, and I left it out, I’m sorry that I couldn’t find it! Thanks to everyone for reading!

*Liebrary comes from
http://www. discoverybaygames.com/

7 thoughts on “First Lines

  1. What fun, Norma. I don’t know if this is a sign of my dotage, or what, but even though I participated in the above games, not only did I not remember the author’s first lines, neither did I recall which ones I wrote!

    1. I enjoyed both your comments, Judy. The Ug! made me laugh. What amazed me about our first lines is how creative we can be when playing a game. I doubt anyone would guess that an 11-year-old wrote, “Oh but for a love for I have none.”

  2. You can overthink it though… Like most writing platitudes, it contains a germ of truth but should not be taken as a straightjacket.

    1. I agree with you, Derek, not that it stops me from overthinking, lol. Sometimes I think that all the good first lines are already taken, just as all the good songs are already written, etc. How silly is that? Thanks for commenting!

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