Since I've been mostly offline for a week, and am even more of a sluggard about keeping up with LJ and blogs than I am about critiquing, the first lines thing pretty much passed me by, until Bart mentioned it at Potlatch. His post links to a useful Bear post on the topic of first lines, which I'm not sure I'm presently skilful enough to apply to my own work.
I'm not altogether convinced that first lines are crucial, but I suspect the real attraction of such memes is that they allow one to talk about one's work. In a strictly academic and comparative manner, of course, rather than with self-centred egotism or anything like that.
Being as self-centred as any other writer, I've given in to temptation. Herewith some of my first lines and what I think about them.
Completed short stories, in reverse order of completion:
Chimps on a Blimp
Valves hissed, and Willow saw the blimp's gasbag swell to a monstrous black egg outlined by pink sky.
[blimp and valves hopefully signals that this is alt-hist or steampunk and not fantasy; the blimp inflation should suggest a journey about to begin; main character's name helpfully provided; a naive hope on the author's part that the combination of 'monstrous' and 'pink' is a hint of both danger and light amusement to come; oh, yeah, and the time of day.]
Bride of the Vampire
Of course the wedding was at night.
[both the title and the first line signal that this is about an unusual wedding, hopefully piquing the reader's interest about why it has to be at night; the 'of course' should provide a matter-of-fact tone that indicates the subject will not be treated altogether seriously, as should the B-movie title. I fear this is a girly story, because the two readers who have utterly not gotten it are both male, whereas the female readers have all gotten it, whether they were positive about all of it or not. But I digress.]
"That which you love best will turn on you and destroy you."
[story about prophecy begins with a prophecy; ominous mood and threat presented; a conscious attempt (and therefore itself Doomed in Big Doomy Letters) to catch attention with the first line; should raise the question of how the oracle can be interpreted and how it will play out (badly for everyone); ending echoes it with possible double meaning.]
Sheep were good at dying.
[short, hopefully punchy and establishing comic tone; introduces sheep, possibly a rural setting; establishes a problem.]
The King of Elfland's Stepdaughter
I dreamed of the Wild Hunt and a child wailing, and woke to gusts rattling the windows.
[kind of a Gothick feel, perhaps; introduces the precipitating event which is the stealing of a mortal child; introduces the question of why the narrator dreams of the Wild Hunt, especially as later in the opening she looks at a digital clock-radio; ominous weather; the more discursive style suggests an older, old-fashioned narrator.]
Uncompleted short stories, in no particular order:
"Tain't rats, yer leddyship, I reckon it's ghosts."
[story about MPD kids used as psychic chimney sweeps; the speech is meant for Dickensian style, somewhat parodic; comic tone with hints of grimness, I guess; introduces problem; suggests setting; establishes two characters in dialogue]
Elementary Magic (title subject to change)
Her Majesty's High Sorcerer accepted a glass of claret from the nervous young lieutenant and leaned back in the camp-chair.
[again a more discursive style to suggest Edwardian fiction; fantasy or alt-hist setting; possibly in a military camp; question of what the sorcerer is doing there and why the Lt. is nervous; introduces two characters, both named in succeeding sentences.]
The bell at the postern gate cried at two hours before dawn.
[another story messing around with gods and prophecy, this one in a more trad fantasy setting; time of night and verb 'cried' to suggest urgency or tragedy; postern gate to suggest ancient/fantasy setting; may suggest bell tolling for end or death, which is the ending of the story.]
Mam bent down and smoothed the edges of Maymay's yuvee mask flat under her dark curls.
[introduces two characters, including pov (Maymay) and suggests that family & relationships will be central; minor sfnal touch of UV mask; gesture meant to suggest Mam's worry (over the Screeners' coming inspection of her children) and Maymay's sensing of her mother's worry. sf, so not one of my stronger stories and may not transcend its origins]
"Is that a real fire?"
[I still have no idea where this story is going, but I've long wanted to start a story with this famous Question Asked of Reenactors. Not an urban legend, by the way, as it was asked in our camp two years ago, by a visitor. Blatant attempt at hook; leads into establishing of Living History setting; mildly funny in context.]
The Willow Knot actually begins with the first lines of Grimm Tale 11, so it's a special case. The first bit of my own writing is:
Myl stood in the chicken run, throwing handfuls of seed to the greedy hens.
[introduces main character; rural setting; themes of eating and hunger--the stock of fairy tales.]
The Astrologer's Death
The boy Tom huddled against the wall, hands tucked into his shirt for warmth, water dripping coldly off the high thatched eaves onto his outthrust elbows and splashing on his bare feet.
[old-fashioned diction to suggest historic setting; general air of misery; main character introduced; question of why he's standing there getting wet.]
Children of Mercury
With stealth surprising in so stocky a man, Maestro Agnolo di Lorenzo stepped to within a pace of his intended victim.
[historical mystery. Opening is a bit of a cheat, as the victim is his lazy apprentice about to be hit with a stick. Introduces main character and a secondary character; suggests main character is more than he looks; hints at crimes to come.]
The line stretched on in front of Palev and behind him.
[the 3-day novel, litfic so needs no hook, perhaps. Introduces main character; bureaucracy as theme; simple language for child character.]