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First line finalists: It’s poll time!

by Jim

I asked for your first lines, and hundreds of you delivered. Now we’re down to nine finalists (the polling site wouldn’t let me do ten), and I’m asking you to do your part and vote for your favorite.

We’ll keep the poll open until 5:00 NY time on Thursday, and the winner gets their manuscript considered by yours truly.

And check back here tomorrow for more commentary from me on the contest; how I chose these nine finalists, what my first line pet peeves are, and other first-line-related shenanigans.

For the time being, remember to vote! Discussions of my choices are welcome. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot if you dislike my picks, but remember to be nice to each other!

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50 Responses to First line finalists: It’s poll time!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Did you pick the 9 worst first lines or the 9 best?

  2. Ara Burklund says:

    Wow! I'm so thrilled you chose mine, Jim! I'll shoot you a query if I don't win the popularity contest. : )

  3. Ara Burklund says:

    Oh, wow. I just saw the comment above mine, but I think the competitors are great! Good luck to everyone! : )

  4. Tracy says:

    It's funny how subjective this whole reading thing is, because I jotted down my Top 10 list last week — and none of those were the finalists. Not that these aren't some good lines, just not the ones that would have caught my attention the most.

  5. Mark says:

    #4 had me rolling and thus, got my swanky-ass vote!

  6. Kristi Helvig says:

    The 5 husbands first line cracked me up – that one got my vote, although I liked them all. Great contest!

  7. Suze says:

    Yup – number 4 made my list too :)

  8. Tracy says:

    Forgot to mention, the 5 husbands line got my vote too. How very clever!

  9. Sangu says:

    I agree with Tracy, it's amazing how subjective this is. The lines above are all great, but only two of them were on my personal Top 10 list.

    Ara Burklund: I wouldn't be discouraged by Anonymous's comment if I were you.

    Thanks for such a great, entertaining contest, Jim!

  10. Ebyss says:

    Great contest. Thanks for hosting. I have cast my vote.

    It must have been hard for you to choose, because I saw lots of great lines. A lot. Ones that made me want to keep reading to see where it would lead.

    Grats to all the finalists.

  11. J.J. Bennett says:

    Good luck to everyone!

  12. Curtis says:

    Two or three were on my top ten list. The Thomas Buttermore line got my vote. Fun contest, thanks Jim.

  13. Ara Burklund says:

    Thanks, Sangu! It's true that taste is totally subjective. : )

  14. Jennifer Schubert says:

    I can't decide yet! They're all so good. But my favorite isn't in there. Good luck, everyone!

  15. Angela Korra'ti says:

    Wait, what, I'm actually on this list? Yikes! *^_^*;;

    Some great contenders here–I really like the five husbands one, and the Captain Stupendous fan club one as well! Good luck, all!

  16. Anonymous says:

    #1 feels too close to pre-existing mythology
    In #2 what does"it" refer to?
    #3 Am I the only one missing a verb?
    #4 "had decided" versus "decided" and the
    second "or" with "something" dilutes the
    power of the sentence
    *5 better stated if it didn't start
    with "There"
    #6 Okay, but classic problem
    #7 extraneous "that," what is the "thing"?
    8) The one I voted for, even though it
    sounds kind of cheesy like Mae West. Best of the bunch.
    #9 This sounds more like a right-coastie
    to me. I don't know any educated Californians
    who eat Twinkies.

  17. Empty Refrigerator says:

    These are all great! I voted :) I also want to add one that I really liked, which didn't make it to this list:
    The worst part of spending three years in and out of sleep clinics is having to room with the chronic bedwetters.
    (No, it's not mine!)

  18. Kristin Laughtin says:

    Like everyone else, only a few of these caught my eye in the initial read-through; one or two I thought were boring and another one or two too gimmicky. That said, I can see why you would have picked each and every one of them, and how they might hook other readers. And yet I'm shocked by the absence of certain lines I found fabulous. Like everyone else said, it's completely subjective. So while the winner's line will be recognized as fantastic, don't feel discouraged if yours didn't make it this time around. I'm sure someone out there likes it. :-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Maybe it's because I'm on my mobile but I can't find the link to the results. Where are they!? Thanks.

  20. Shawntelle Madison says:

    Some of those are really fun! Voting on one of them was a bit hard.

  21. WriterGirl says:

    Wow I'm so flattered that mine was chosen. Quite a few of the others had caught my eye when they were posted as well. I don't expect to win but thanks so much to anyone who votes for my line. It's so exciting! (#4)

  22. Lesli Muir Lytle says:

    How long it took me to decide proves what good choices you made.

    Lesli Muir Lytle

  23. Carolyn says:

    Oh, tough choices! This was fun.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Wow – so you definitely have a strong preference for first person narrative. Seven of the nine finalists are first person and 5 of the 9 begin with "I" or "I've." I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on first person vs. third. Thanks for the fun contest!

  25. Anonymous says:

    No offense but No. 1 is the only decent one in this line up. When I read the entries last week I found so many more that were much better than these!

  26. jenny wilson says:

    I love the 5 husbands line, a classic

  27. Yat-Yee says:

    One of my favorites made it to the list, yay! Regardless of which ones have been chosen, I enjoyed the opportunity to read so many first lines.

    I just glanced at some comments and would like to respond to one of the anons. The use of "had decided" in this case is necessary, IMHO. And the "or something" seems to me, is part of the narrator's voice, and I don't feel as if it's diluted the sentence.

    And no, I didn't write it and I don't know the writer.

  28. K says:

    Wow. I made the list! Thanks so much for picking mine. There are a LOT of awesome first lines here!

  29. Olivia Carter says:

    Wow- I'm surprised how rude people are.

    It's a "one persons opinion of the top 1st lines" contest, people!

    I think they're all great. Are they my top 10? I have no idea- I'd have to read them all- but seriously, people are questioning his personal top favorites? That's weird.

  30. DGLM says:

    Heh. Olivia, if you're surprised by how rude people are, you don't spend enough time in internet message boards. :)

    I did tell people to let me know if they thought I was an idiot for my choices, so I literally asked for it! I do reiterate my request that everyone be polite to the other writers. Don't single any lines out for your criticism. This should be about supporting each other, not tearing each other down. Literary bloodsport is so last century.

    I'll break these down line by line on the blog tomorrow to explain why I chose each one. I'm also going to ask then that people nominate some of their own favorite lines.

    Anonymous 3:57, good eye. I don't think I noticed my first person bias here. Will have to think on that and go through my client list to see if that bears out on a larger scale! Expect updates in future blog posts.

  31. Anonymous says:

    From Anonymous 3:57:

    I think I noticed that first person bias because I write narrative nonfiction and have a journalism/academic background so I typically try to avoid first person. I don't know much about YA, but it seems that the intimacy and immediacy of first person (as opposed to the filtered analysis of third person) would have the most resonance for teens, so your choices make sense to me. Thanks again for the fun!!!

  32. K. E. Carson says:

    Ah! I like five of the ones out there! Oh no, I can't pick!

  33. Anonymous says:

    For what it's worth, I would have given #4 at least 3 pages to see where it went. I was mildly curious about #8, but would bail if the first 3 paragraphs weren't stellar. As for the rest, I probably wouldn't have been looking in those sections of the bookstore anyway. My taste is clearly quite different from Jim's. So, I doubt I'll be querying him.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Lots of interesting beginnings here. Can't wait to see what happens. For my money, I'd like to read more of #4 though!

  35. fatcaster says:

    Like some folks, #8 caught my eye — but only because I've seen it/heard it before and because it's too close to "How many husbands have I had? You mean apart from my own?" (Zsa Zsa Gabor)

  36. Anonymous says:

    My friendly critique of #8 from a marketing standpoint is that the narrator might not be too sympathetic, especially in this day and age of tawdry celebrity sex scandals. Monica Lewinsky. Rachel Uchetal. Michelle "Bombshell" McGee. Please, we get enough of these sensational confessionals in the tabloids! But maybe I'm too conservative, and want to be both entertained AND enlightened when I read, which may explain my bias toward third person, narrative nonfiction. It's still a great one-liner, though, and goes to show how subjective the publishing world is! A great "take-away" lesson for all of us. Good luck to all the finalists! SE

  37. dr-pretentious says:

    The five-husbands line is awfully close to the first line of Doris Lessing's "To Room Nineteen," which I seem to recall begins, "I've had so many husbands, I don't need a husband." Probably an innocent case of convergent evolution.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Good luck to everyone. I hope the Facebook entries were counted too, this isn't even on FB today so I would have missed it. Will come here directly in the future. Thanks for the contest.

  39. MaryWitzl says:

    Can we vote for more than one? I'm torn between the funeral line and "I saw her do it before she did."

  40. Djibril Alayad says:

    The only two that really grabbed me were the Hermes one and the "things like me existed" one. (Some of the others were pretty short, so I'd read another couple lines before casting judgement.) But we can only vote once…

  41. Olivia Carter says:

    DGLM- True I don't frequent message boards. I guess I was mostly surprised that so many people posted snarky comments anonymously. I figure if you're gonna say it, own it.

    And I've reconsidered. You did ask for it. Hehe

  42. Lynn says:

    Thanks, Jim, for picking mine among so many great first lines! There were quite a few that made me want to read more….and hopefully, one day I will.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Eh, mountains of clever in these lines, but clever is to today's publishing biz what HFCS is to food: a poor substitute for real flavor.

    Sadly, the two that merit company with Call Me Ishmael, Happy Families Are All Alike, and It Was The Best Of Times have so far received the least of votes.

  44. Heidi Ayarbe says:

    I had to vote for #4, too! It made me spit out my coffee. :-)

  45. Anonymous says:

    This seems very subjective – more about what kinds of topics interest you than how good the writing is. Just a thought.

  46. Suze says:

    I have to agree with Anon 8:42. I do think that #8 is a very clever line, but if I remember correctly (and forgive me if I don't), the genre was either a memoir or fact based fiction (or similar) and that made the author deeply unsympathetic to me and the line a complete turnoff.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Anon 2:55 – Isn't everything subjective, especially in the publishing world? "Don't send your mystery or horror manuscript to an agent looking for romance." "Don't ask an editor to read your YA manuscript when he or she only deals with non-fiction." Just because you're subjective doesn't mean you overlook good writing!

    Suze – I went back to look at the genre, she says "….mine is a non-fiction book proposal that I'm working on,…." which doesn't necessarily mean that it's a memoir or an autobiography. For all we know, she could be writing a book about the life of Mae West or Zsa Zsa Gabor!

  48. Anonymous says:

    Congrats to #7!!!

    I thought they were all great, but I do have to say that #1 and #7 were my favorites

  49. Monterey Writer says:

    Wow, got caught up in writing and forgot to check back. Honored to be chosen (#10) even if I didn't win.

  50. Monterey Writer says:

    oops, #9

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