Michelle’s Word

February 6, 2007

Whose First Line is it Anyway?

Filed under: Word games — Michelle Reid @ 5:01 pm

I used to teach a seminar class at the University of Reading for first year undergraduates called “What Kind of Text is This?” (Great title). It was an introduction to the idea of genre and how we identify whether a text is a tragedy, comedy, satire…etc.

In my first seminar I would play a game with my students as an icebreaker and to get everyone thinking about what kinds of information we process when we’re reading, and how we use this to recognise different types of texts.

What Kind of Text is This?

  • Find the first lines from a range of different books, plays, poems, magazines, newspapers etc. Select some that are famous and some that are more tricky.
  • Write the first lines on different strips of paper and put them in a bag / container.
  • Going around the group, the first person picks an opening line at random, reads it out, and tries to guess where it comes from.
  • The player has to explain why they reached this answer – saying what it was in the line that gave them the clue.
  • You can award points – 1 point each for correctly identifying the author, title, and genre – but I prefer not to do this when it is a fun icebreaker.
  • If the player gets stuck, they can ask the audience to help them out.
  • Go around the group until everyone has had a turn.

This game is similar to Ex Libris which gets you to write the first lines yourself to see if you can fool other players.

Some of my favourite first lines:

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
Iain Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”
Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines (2001)

If you’d like help finding that perfect first line for your novel or report, I offer a full editing and proofreading service.


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