Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Great first lines.
One thing that I do a lot now is go to Borders and open to the first page of any novel. Why? Well, I took this seminar on Great First Lines, and I realized how important that first line is. It’s like the opening scene of a movie trailer. As we sit in the theatre watching the preview, we know right away if we’ll pay money for it or wait for it to come out on video. Tell me you haven’t turned to someone and said, “Video.” We all do it. That means the first line didn’t grab us. If it was a book in our hands, we’d put it down. It didn’t hold our interest, make us question, or tug on any strings. Down it goes.
So, I started looking at first lines…to see my own reaction. To see if there was enough there to entice me. Here are some from the seminar as well as others I’ve read that resonated”
I steal.
Now, you ask…why is that a good first line? Because we are immediately in question. Who steals? Why does she steal? Does she have to or is she driven by something different? What does she steal? Is she a professional thief?
By the time we finish the questions, we’re sucked in. The very act of questioning prompts us to want to know more, and the way to get your questions answered is to buy the book.
Few of us are turned on by a lengthy description as a first line or first page. Sure, the classic writers got away with it. Men used to be able to rape their wives to, and once, slavery was legal. Things change. Readers are no exception. I don’t know about you, but if I pick up a book, open it, and there’s a block of text describing the scenery, I’m putting that book back down. No thanks. There’s a time and place for it, to be sure, but as an opening line? You do the math.
Which would you rather read:
1) I didn’t want to kill my mother, but she gave me no choice.
2) The Everett’s house had never been quieter behind the peeling yellow shutters and the overgrown hedges that said the occupants were too busy to care about things like maintaining the house.
So…anyone up for tossing out either great first lines that you wrote or great first lines from someone else’s work?

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