First Lines


My buddy, Elle, recently posted an article on her blog entitled Fighting Writer’s Block by Mr. David Taylor. Note Cause #4:

Writers often start in the wrong place.

Well, of course we do. We start, as Julie Andrews admonished in Sound of Music, at the very beginning. It seems logical, right? It’s how you’re supposed to start everything you do, from baking a cake to taking a pee.

Then there’s the other thing: we’re all told that the first sentence/paragraph/page is what will determine whether or not a would-be customer will buy our book. I have to admit that this is often true for me as I peruse the bookshelves. Take, for example, two novels I bought over the summer after having been seduced by the first line:

The Gun Seller, Hugh Laurie
“Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.”

Now, I have to admit that I love Hugh Laurie more than just about anyone in the world, and would have bought his book if the first line sucked big fat eggs. But that line made me start reading in the car on the way home from the bookstore. (Fear not…my beloved hubby was driving.) Supper that night consisted of frozen pizza, because I could pop that into the oven while holding the book up to my nose.

Towelhead, Alicia Erian
“My mother’s boyfriend got a crush on me, so she sent me to live with my daddy.”

I closed the book, took a deep breath to stop the room from spinning, and made a beeline for the cash register. On that particular day I was alone in the bookstore, and was responsible for driving myself home, so I did the only thing I could do: I sat in my car and read for an hour, reluctantly marked my page, rushed home (ignoring the speed limit laws), made sandwiches for supper, then read until I had finished the book.

And so I am nervous about my own first lines/paragraphs/pages. What if, after pouring my heart, gut, soul and brain into what turns out to be a damn fine novel, no one ever reads it because my first line sucks big fat eggs…or at least fails to grip?

Note Mr. Taylor’s advice:

If you’re stuck on the first paragraph, bag it. Write down, “First paragraph goes here,” leave a space, then write “Second Paragraph” and start there. Be prepared to skip over anything that tries to keep you stuck. Save that part until later. The answer will likely become obvious later on when you’ve done more writing and know more about the thing you’re creating.

So, I can tell you all that my official first line of my 2007 NaNoNovel will be:

“Ingenious first line to appear here later.”

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About R.J. Keller

R. J. Keller is the author of Waiting For Spring. An avid independent movie enthusiast, she was Managing Editor of The Movie Fanatic website and created episodes of the writer-centric YouTube series, Inside The Writers' Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. She co-hosted Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran from 2011-2014. She lives in Central Maine with her family, where she enjoys gardening, collecting geeky memorabilia, and watching other people cook. View all posts by R.J. Keller

2 responses to “First Lines

  • Elleann

    And so all is revealed!! That’s why your blog has a new name!! It’s brilliant.

    But seriously, I have spent more hours pondering witty, pithy, snappy, and tantalizing first lines than I have spent actually writing novels. Not to mention trying to develop stunning titles. Which is why my NaNo book is currently called “I Wish I Knew!”

  • Zoe

    I’m very picky about book beginnings. If the first few paragraphs don’t draw me in, I’m not likely to read it, unless the back cover description made it sound really enticing. And yet I have a really hard time coming up with a decent first line.

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