First Lines

Troy Howell


Some first lines are direct and engaging, capturing you like a song. Here’s the first line from one of my favorite books, still in print after 46 years. It’s a book I occasionally open as a source of inspiration when my writing begins to slog.

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

This line accomplishes so much with so little. It introduces the main character, gives you the fantasy setting, and presents the seed of the plot, the motive behind the action that sweeps you through the tale, which is the unicorn’s quest to find the rest of her kind. It also establishes the mood (an achingly breathless one), with the alliterative use of the ‘L” sound, lulling us in. Even color and smell appear, enhancing the magical quality, with that one select word—not oak, not linden—lilac.

Twelve words, unadorned, yet lovely. Like the unicorn herself, this opening line is exquisite.


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