First Lines from Other Worlds

I changed things up a bit for this First Line Friday post. First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. For these first lines from other worlds I include the first 45-55 words of each novel. When you read these first words, do you want to read more?

The cover of The City in the Middle of night is mostly black silhouette of city buildings against pink silhouettes of buildings against a yellow sky running perpendicularly down the open edge of the book.

Bianca walks toward me, under too much sky. The white-hot twilight makes a halo out of loose strands of her fine black hair. She looks down and fidgets, as though she’s trying to settle an argument with herself, but then she looks up and sees me and a smile starts …

The City in the Middle of the Night  by Charlie Jane Ander

The cover of Machine has a dark blue to black background with a lighter blue to white tree like structure dotted with lights--possibly representing neurons in the white space of your brain--definitely other worlds

I stood in the door and looked down.

Down wasn’t the right word, exactly. But it also wasn’t the wrong word. All directions were down from where I stood, and almost all of them were an infinitely long fall.

Machine: A White Space Novel By Elizabeth Bear

The cover of Tiger Honor shows the white outlines of a tiger againsg a blue star field with two planets in the background. In the foreground a young man kneels on one knee and looks up into the heavens and other worlds.

When the mail arrived, it should have been the best day of my life.

Mail—physical mail—came once a week at best. The Juhwang Clan of tiger spirits made our home on the world of Yonggi for the past several centuries. Our ties to the land dated back…

Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee 

The cover of The Light Brigade has large typeface so the author's name and the title fill the cover's foreground, behind the letters is the non-gender specific soldier in armor standing in a white light that fades to a dark blue a symbol for other worlds

They said the war would turn us into light.

I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world. That’s what I told the recruiter. That’s what I told my first squad leader. It’s what I told every CO, and there were … a couple. And that’s what I’d tell myself, when …

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Cover of Afterland has the Author's name at the top in the center is a twig with four green leaves hanging down from it and continuing to end in a pink flower against a blue sky with white fluffy clouds a story from other worlds here on earth.

Look at me,” Cole says. “Hey.” Checking Miles’s pupils, which are still huge. Shock and fear and the drugs working their way of of his system. Scrambling to remember her first-aid training. Checklist as life buoy. He’s able to focus, to speak without slurring. He was groggy in the car, getting away. …

Afterland by Lauren Beukes 

A Reminder

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Cover of the Book Fellowship, a companion to the Fellowship Dystopia, has a deep brown background with rust brown Fellowship shield over which there is a yellow and orange 2-D church spire, in front of which the silhouette of a young man runs toward the camera. Other worlds sometimes happen on earth.


One word and Ian Hobart’s world teetered into not safe.  The reporters’ voices fell, the remainder of their conversation now muted by the clack and ratchet and ding of their typewriters. 

Fellowship, a companion novel to the Fellowship Dystopia Series
by Lynette M. Burrows

Don’t forget, book two in the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die, will be on preorder next month. Read book one before then. And watch this space for a sneak peek or two into the action-packed story of book two.

Other Worlds on Your TBR?

Did you enjoy these first lines from other worlds? You may also enjoy previous First Line Fridays.

Which of these books is now on your TBR list?

Do You Know Why These First Lines Work?

Last week I posted a list of first lines and asked if you’d buy the books based on those first sentences. The first words and paragraphs of a story can bring the story to life or let bring it down. Do you know why these first lines work? Or don’t? Whether you’re a reader or a writer, it’s helpful to know when the first sentences are successful.

Black man reading a book with a red cover--does he know why these first lines work?

Rapture in Death-does it work? 

The alley was dark and stank of piss and vomit. It was home for quick-footed rats and the bony, hungry-eyed felines who hunted them.

J.D. Robb, Rapture in Death

Oh, boy, does it work! It engages your senses and makes you feel something. Maybe you recoil a bit. Or you feel a little squeamish about the smell or those quick-footed rats. The bony, hungry-eyed felines evokes a specific picture. Your imagination puts you in that alley because of those words.

The words give you a feel for who the narrator is. The word piss and vomit. Not pee or urine, but piss. Not emesis or throw up, but vomit. 

Each word works on at least two levels. And it sets up a question in the reader’s mind. Who is in that alley and why?

The Rose Thief—does it work?

He, or very possibly she, was known as The Rose Thief. 

 Claire Buss, The Rose Thief 

This is a simple beginning, but it creates curiosity. He or very possibly she—you wonder, why don’t they know. Known as the Rose Thief. Does this person steal roses or leave a rose behind after a theft? 

Those questions drive you forward to the next sentence. Not bad for eleven words.

City—does it work?

image of book cover for CIty by CLifford D. Simak--Do you know why these first lines work?

Gramp Stevens sat in a lawn chair, watching the mower at work, feeling the warm, soft sunshine seep into his bones.

Clifford Simak, City

This is a subtle bit of business, isn’t it? Kind of laid back and idyllic. But wait—he’s watching the mower work. The mower as in the machine, not a person. Sets you up, doesn’t it? You want to read a little more to find out what else isn’t quite right in Gramp Stevens’s world.

Jade—does it work?

I was loving this. First day on the job and I was off to a possible location of the vamp killers.

Rose Montague, Jade

Four words and you get an idea of what the character is like. Then we find out it’s her first day on the job—our sympathy is almost immediate. But wait—she’s going to the location of the vamp killers. Now you want to know—is she a vampire? Is she in danger? What kind of job does she have and what kind of world does she live in? You have to read further to find out. 

Left Hand of Darkness—does it work?

image of the cover of the left hand of darkness by ursula k le guin. do you know  why these first lines work?

I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my home world that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

“I’ll make my report…” Another four word introduction and you get a feel for the character. Plus you’re curious. What happened that this person must make a report?

“As if I told a story…” an interesting way to make a report. This also makes you curious—how old is this character and what stories is he/she used to hearing.

Then you learn the character’s not “on my homeward.” And you wonder where is the home world? Where is he/she now? Finally, the last part of the sentence has a twist you weren’t expecting. Especially if you believe truth is not a matter of the imagination.

These first lines work because they give you a peek at a character, a world that is different, and hint at pique your curiosity.

The Ruler—does it work?


The word looped in my head, and I tasted it. Kamikaze.

Elin Peer, The Ruler (Men of the North Book 2) 

This character is thinking of a word made famous and dreaded during WWII. The word refers toa member of a Japanese air attack corps in World War II assigned to make a suicidal crash on a target (such as a ship).”

The word loops in his head and he tastes it. What? Now you have to continue reading to find out if this character is suicidal or some kind of alien creature. 

The Plantation—does it work?

Everywhere I turn, all I see is black. My vision drowns in cascading waves of darkness.

Stella Fitzsimmons, The Plantation 

These two lines don’t tell you a lot about the character, but instantly you’re alarmed. Why does this character see only black? Why drowning in waves of darkness? Is it a problem with the character’s eyes or with the location? You won’t know unless you read more. 

Why These First Lines Work

Each of these first lines differ from one another. Yet they are also similar. Each one gives you a feel for the story’s narrator, brings up at least one question, and stirs an emotional reaction in you, the reader. Now you know why these first lines work. They do the work of engaging you through your emotions, your curiosity, and some also use your senses. Study the first lines of books you’ve read. What did you discover? Tell us in the comments below. 

Why Did You Buy That Book?

Why did you buy that book? Because of the first page?
Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle, Mickey Spillane, Lynette M Burrows
. . . They read it to get to the end.

If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy any more.

The first page sells that book.

The last page sells your next book.

— Mickey Spillane 


Do you agree with Mr. Spillane? Do you read the first page before you buy a book? Have you ever bought a book because of the last page of a book?


Image: Victoria Park Silhouette courtesy of Russell Street via Flickr Creative Commons