First Line Pressure

call-me-ishmael

I think that most readers (readers who are non-writers, anyway) take for granted the beauty of a great first line. Unless it’s just crazy famous like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen” or “Call me Ishmael,” most people don’t even remember what the first line of a book was by the time they come to the end. I’ll even say most people don’t remember what the first line was by the time they come to the second line. Ouch.

But still, that magical first line is all important. A good first line will give you a taste of the genre, the time, the setting, the mood, the main character and the voice.  A great first line will manage to sum up the entire struggle or premise of the story without telling you that’s what it’s doing. First lines are hard.

I’ve been struggling with mine for some time now. I had one that I loved – truly loved – but it turned out that I was starting my book in the wrong place, so the first line had to go. (I actually just moved it later and turned it into a bit of dialogue. I couldn’t bear to part with it.) And ever since I moved my opening to a more appropriate place, I can’t quite recapture the feeling of that original first line. Maybe it means I’m not starting in the right place again. Maybe it means that I’m not embracing the big picture of my novel early enough. Or maybe it means I’m putting too much pressure on myself to come up with a great first line.

So that’s my current struggle. Anyone out there have a first line tip to share? Or a first line that inspires you? Let’s hear it!

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4 thoughts on “First Line Pressure

  1. ugh YES…been going through this for months now. I find one I love but then the premise’ll change and I have to change it…and I like opening lines with a huge punch too. I think some of my favorite first lines are Sophie Kinsella’s. I didn’t love her last book but the opener was hilarious. “I’ve bought him an engagement ring. Was that a mistake?” ha! Right away we know the type of girl we’re dealing with and it just draws you right in.

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    • Ha! That is a great opening line! I love lines that are quirky and memorable like that. They give you a taste of what you’re in for right off the bat. That’s exactly what I strive for. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my struggle. 🙂

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  2. First lines are the worst. Unless you have a good one, and then they’re the best! 😉 I really like Maggie Stiefvater’s opening for The Scorpio Races: It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die. Lurve!!

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    • Ooooo so good!! Intriguing and very memorable … definitely makes me want to keep reading. I just started my first book by her, The Raven Boys, which if I’m not mistaken you recommended! LOVING it so far!!

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