Monday, May 13, 2013

7 Finding the Perfect First Sentence by Jessica Brody

A few years ago, I read a newspaper article about a teen girl who was the sole survivor of a plane crash. I was instantly fascinated by the story. Namely because they had no idea why she survived when no else did. I started brainstorming reasons as to why she was so lucky. One particular reason (a rather intricate, science-fiction-inspired one) stuck in my mind and refused to leave. It continued to grow and blossom until I had an idea for an entire trilogy. A trilogy that starts with a mysterious plane crash and a single survivor.

When I set off to write UNREMEMBERED, I knew exactly what I wanted the opening of the first book to be. I could see it so clearly in my mind.

Imagine waking up in the middle of an ocean surrounded by debris. You have no idea who you are, where you are, or how you go there. Even more terrifying, you have absolutely NO memory of anything in your life before that moment.

I thought this would be such a creepy way to start a book. And I purposely wrote the book in first person so that YOU, the reader, were in my character’s head and could experience exactly what she is going through. It was very important that my reader not be one step ahead or one step behind the narrative. You are right there with her, every step of the way.

So if you can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up floating in an ocean with no memories, don’t worry. Just read the book. I’ll take you on that journey. :)

Book openings are so important. Sometimes, as a writer, all you get is one page, one paragraph or even one sentence to hook a reader. So it’s crucial to pick the right opening. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to start your story at the beginning. The most effective opening could be somewhere in the middle of the story, or even at the every end. It all depends on the writer and the story he/she wants to tell.

When I start a book, I agonize for a while about what that essential first line will be. For me, it needs to be just as “inspired” as the title and like the title, it needs to say something about the book, or in some way fit the theme of the book.

In UNREMEMBERED the first line is: “The water is cold and ruthless, lapping against my cheek.”

This was designed to set the tone of the story and set up who my character is and what kind of predicament she finds herself in (waking up with no memories).

In 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER (a contemporary comedy), the first line is: “My father is going to kill me.”

And in THE KARMA CLUB, it’s: “I can tell you right now, it’s all Karma’s fault.”

I chose these lines because on some level they represent what the entire book is going to be about. In just one line.

I think a good first line is one that you read and immediately think, “Ooh, this is going to be good!” I will sometimes browse the bookstore looking for perfect first lines.

Here are some of my favorite first lines from books:

“I used to be someone.” – THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson

“They came in the night.” – CREWEL by Gennifer Albin

“It’s harder to drive a polar bear into somebody’s living room than you’d think.” – TIMMY FAILURE by Stephan Pastis

“My mother thinks I’m dead.” – LEGEND by Marie Lu

“When you’ve been struck by lightning as many times as I have, you start to expect the worst pretty much all the time.” – STRUCK by Jennifer Bosworth

So...what about you? What are your favorite first lines from books?

About the Author

Jessica Brody knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She started self “publishing” her own books when she was seven years old, binding the pages together with cardboard, wallpaper samples and electrical tape.

After graduating from Smith College in 2001 where she double majored in Economics and French and minored in Japanese, Jessica later went on to work for MGM Studios as a Manager of Acquisitions and Business Development. In May of 2005, Jessica quit her job to follow her dream of becoming a published author.

In four short years , Jessica has sold nine novels (two adult novels to St. Martin’s Press and seven young adult novels to Farrar, Straus, Giroux.) The Fidelity Files, her debut, (which was recently optioned for film) released in stores (in real binding) in June of 2008 and the follow-up, Love Under Cover (aka The Good Girl’s Guide to Bad Men in the UK) in November 2009. The Karma Club, Jessica’s debut young adult novel released in April of 2010 and her second YA release, My Life Undecided hit bookstores in June 2011.

52 Reasons to Hate My Father (which was also optioned for film) recently released in July 2012 and Unremembered, the first book in a new teen sci-fi/suspense trilogy, is now out in stores!

Jessica’s books are published and translated in over fifteen foreign countries including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Portugal, Poland, Bulgaria, Israel, and Taiwan. Click here for a full list of foreign sales and publishers.

Jessica now works full time as a writer and producer. She currently splits her time between Los Angeles and Colorado.

Check out Jessica's website
Follow Jessica on Twitter

About the Book

The only thing worse than forgetting her past . . . is remembering it.

When Freedom Airlines flight 121 went down over the Pacific Ocean, no one ever expected to find survivors. Which is why the sixteen-year-old girl discovered floating among the wreckage—alive—is making headlines across the globe.

Even more strange is that her body is miraculously unharmed and she has no memories of boarding the plane. She has no memories of her life before the crash. She has no memories period. No one knows how she survived. No one knows why she wasn’t on the passenger manifest. And no one can explain why her DNA and fingerprints can’t be found in a single database in the world.

Crippled by a world she doesn’t know, plagued by abilities she doesn’t understand, and haunted by a looming threat she can’t remember, Seraphina struggles to piece together her forgotten past and discover who she really is. But with every clue only comes more questions. And she’s running out of time to answer them.

Her only hope is a strangely alluring boy who claims to know her from before the crash. Who claims they were in love. But can she really trust him? And will he be able to protect her from the people who have been making her forget?

Buy UNREMEMBERED on Indiebound
Find UNREMEMBERED on Goodreads


  1. I do that too! I look at the first lines of the books in bookstores ALL THE TIME. I admit that I judge books by their first sentence. Sometimes, I postpone reading the book if I felt like the first sentence was MEH. Hee, love this post!

  2. Those are awesome lines!!! The polar bear one made me laugh out loud. The 1st line from Fahrenheit 451 always sticks in my head... "It was a pleasure to burn." Love it!

  3. "I envy Jessica Brody's first lines." Could that possibly be a good first line? Probably not... back to work. But thanks for the inspiration!

  4. "People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day." (True Grit, by Charles Portis)

  5. "They shoot the white girl first." Paradise by Toni Morrison. Great post. Thanks.

  6. Those are great first lines. I always judge a book by the first line. It sets the whole tone of the book and is usually the deciding factor whether I continue reading or not. Great post, thanks.

  7. I can't start writing a new book until I know the first line. It sets the whole mood/tone and helps me leap right into the story. They are SO important, but also so fun to write AND read!

    My newest book's first line: "The first butterfly comes the day after the funeral."



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