Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More of Fiction's Fabulous First Lines

I know I've posted on this before, but since this is a time of new beginnings in my life, I have beginnings on the mind. Which is why this article from the American Book Review caught my eye.

Three weeks ago, just before my daughter Charlotte was born, I started writing my next book. I'd been bouncing a few ideas around in my head for months, procrastinating on actually starting the work by researching, revising, researching some more... But once the countdown to her birth had begun, I figured that if I didn't start writing before she arrived, I'd certainly never get around to it with a newborn and toddler in my lap. So the weekend before she was born, I sat down and clicked out a couple thousand words of the first major scene. (Of course I haven't touched it since, but that's a post for another time.)

Coming up with the first line is almost always the hardest part of getting started. Once I get the first line down, writing the rest of the book usually comes fairly easily (assuming I've outlined and not pantsed my way through). In fact, a large part of my procrastination usually comes from not being able to figure out what that first line should be. Sometimes I know the last line already, or even random lines from Act II scenes or whatever, but the first line can elude me for months. Years, even. And that's because first lines are so important. They're the gateway to your story, the decisive point that allows the reader in mere seconds to answer the all-important question: Am I willing to spend hours of my valuable time with this book?

So I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Study the masters! My post last year was on the top 10 first lines in fiction, but the ABR article is even more comprehensive, clocking in at the top 100 Best First Lines from Novels. Most are from classic literature, but that's okay, because classics become classics for a reason, right?

In case you're interested, right now the tentative first line of my work-in-progress (a contemporary YA with elements of magical realism) goes something like this: "I know when the world will end." 

Would you read on?

TJ