Thursday, March 15, 2012

The First Line

I love talking about the first lines of stories, mainly because they're the hardest to produce.

She died yesterday.
Even macaroni and cheese can prove to be deadly.
She ate, but it wasn't heartily, sort of like shoving boxed macaroni and cheese down your throat without cooking it. 
In death, came life, and Mrs. McGrayer Jones believed in life.

Photo by: Moriza, courtesy of Flickr
If you were going to write a fiction story with a hint of mystery, what beginning would you use? Not one of them is "correct." What they are are the sort of options we make when deciding on that first line. Do we want it short and sweet like the first line? Something with a little bit of mystery, like the second line? Do we want to express more of the main character's thoughts like the third line? Or do we want our first line to be a bit more symbolic like the fourth line?

Interestingly enough, you may not get to a line like this until the third page or the fifth chapter. What you may think is your first line rarely turns out to be the first; rather, it's just some sort of lead in to the real story. And I like that idea.

After all our cruising around in our new sports car, we find that it's not so sporty after all. The stuff we've written at the beginning of our book is more like a used car, blue, with old pinstripes that have begun to wear off. And maybe that's okay.

Sometimes we have to wait for the good stuff.

Photo by: Unlisted Sightings, courtesy of Flickr
As you've heard, the best stuff not only needs to be at the first of your book, it has to be. And so choosing the best first line that leads into the first paragraph and the first page, needs to create in the reader a desire to keep reading beyond the children playing in the background, a husband's love of sports blaring in the next room, even (dare I say it) someone sitting next to them eating chocolate cream pie!

A good first line is kind of like your ticket to read. Without that good first line, the reader is working his/her way into the book, trying to find the ticket. Don't make them wait until chapter 3!

So, what beginning do you prefer? One, two, three or four? Today, I give you permission to choose one you like (or one you've created on your own). Today I give you permission (though you've never needed it) to write that stunning first line.  
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