Sunday, February 20, 2011

Crafting a Killer First Line

Several years ago at Sleuthfest, I went out to dinner with Jamie Freveletti, Linda Hengerer and Joe Konrath. Joe started talking about first lines. He challenged us to come up with one on the spot. I don't recall what Jamie or Linda said, but here's mine:

I was rummaging around in the trash Dumpster searching for my lost paycheck when I reached down and grabbed Cindy Gambrowski’s severed leg.

That became the first line for Make, Take, Murder, which will be published May 1, 2011.

I'm a big believer in working overtime to craft a perfect first line. Here's the first line of Ink, Red, Dead, the fifth book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series:

A blood red blossom flowered slowly on Edwina Fitzgerald’s chest.

Recently I read an outstanding blog post by Vicki Hendricks. She says, "Of course, the first sentence gives the indication of everything else to come."

She gives a few great examples. So great, in fact, that I was inspired to write a short story that begins with this:

The stink of imminent death hit me hard the minute I walked into Room 234. All head injuries emit that horrid scent when they start to go south.

I might need to tinker with it, but it's a start. Can you share any outstanding first lines?


Kathryn Glover said...

Kathryn says, "I always wanted to wake up to a hairy chest in the morning. I just never knew it would be my dogs'."

Linda O. Johnston said...

I always play around with my first lines, too, Joanna. Can't miss this opportunity to post the first line of the first book in my upcoming Pet Rescue Mystery series, BEAGLEMANIA: "I am not a killer. At least not a killer of animals."

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Love both of those! Kathryn, that's a great one! And Linda, oooooohhhhh!

Ellen said...

My personal favorite was the first line in a short story I wrote:

"Potiphar Pugh and the Fossil Man bent over the table -- the one in the back, where the dirty work was done."

My second favorite: "He was a dark and stormy knight."

Monica Ferris said...

I always liked, "The two kings sat shoulder to shoulder at the picnic table, across from the autocrat." From Murder at the War by Mary Monica Pulver, aka me.

Shel said...

I like the first line in Wendy Clinch's debut: "When Stacey Curtis found the dead man on the bed, she knew it was time to get her own apartment."

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Oh, Ellen, what a wicked pun, and so perfect.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Monica,that's a grabber!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Shel, it's midnight, I've been writing for hours and your contribution gave me a much needed laugh. Thanks!