The Untrue First Line
Um, the sentences in a book are almost always correct. That's assumed. In fact, this "being correct" is such a basic principle of good writing that no one even notices or mentions it. Everyone knows it. Everyone tries to follow it. Except of course for first lines.
In the beginning, there is a formula.
Actually, there are several formulas.
(We Regret to Inform You, Kaplan)
So the first sentence is wrong! Sometimes I write a sentence then realize isn't quite correct. But then I always change it.
Like all big mistakes, mine started with a goat. (13 Gifts, Maas)
Wrong – most big mistakes do not start with a goat. Maybe hers started with a goat? Not even that. According to the next sentence:
But if I'm being totally honest, I wouldn't be riding my bike to school at dusk, with nefarious deeds ahead, if that telegram hadn't arrived last month.
(13 Gifts, Maas)
You could probably read a whole book and not find a sentence that was deliberately wrong . . . except for the first sentence. So it's stunning how many of those are wrong. (And that's not even counting dreams.) Apparently, the second sentence of the book is when authors are obligated to start being honest (she suggested cynically).
By the way, the chronological order of that start was smoothly travelling backwards. Next example:
The stranger didn't shatter Adam's world all at once.
That was what Adam Price would tell himself later, but that was a lie. Adam somehow knew, right away, right from the very first sentence, that the life he had known as a content suburban married father of two was forever gone.
(The Stranger, Coben)
Assuming I understand this correctly, the first line, by an omniscient narrator, was wrong. And the narrator omnisciently knew that.
I'm going to be hit by a car in four hours, but I don't know that yet. (There Will Be Lies, Lake)
A first-person narrator can't tell us things she doesn't know; there is no such point-of-view, and it doesn't make any sense. For her to say she doesn't know something she just said is, well, beyond goofy.
Some other examples we have already seen:
The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes.
Not that I could see.
...It's just paper. Heck, for the most part it isn't even paper... (Teen Inc., Petrucha)
I never write a sentence and then contradict it in the next sentence. Well, sometimes I do, but then I edit to remove the contradiction. So there are no contradictions in my writing.
Well, sometimes I have contradictions.
It's creepy. I don't like it. Yes I do. No I don't.
That's a first person present tense narration, where contradictions in narration can occur for character. That's natural. You can see how often they occur in the middle of a book, which isn't very often. Their high occurrence in the first sentence isn't caused by trying to create character.
Just a Little Off
Some first lines are not exactly wrong but also not exactly right.
She nearly killed an innocent man.
She runs out in front of a car, the car swerves and almost drops into a canyon. The word "innocent" implies that he was thought to be guilty, so that isn't how we use the word usually. But it's an exciting word.
On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below. (Wilder)
Stein (Stein on Writing) notes, "The key to arousing our interest is in the words 'finest bridge.'" But the bridge wasn't sturdy – it was a "mere ladder of thin slats swung out over the gorge, with handrails of dried vine"; horses and carriages could not use it.
The author could have described the bridge as being sturdier. It could have instead been described as "famous" or "revered" and made a better story.
Burning is an art. (The Book of Joan, Yuknavitch)
That's not very meaningful. A few pages later:
I am an expert on skin grafting.
Both are possible; the second sentence doesn't really explain the first. But that isn't how things are usually described, because expertise and art are usually considered to be two different things.
That has to exhaust the list of problems found mostly in the first line, right?