I am one of those writer’s that say, “No,” but with a caveat: It needs to be a first line that leads the reader to the second line which leads to a desire to finish the paragraph and by then, I hope the reader is hooked. The first line needs to welcome the reader without overwhelming him, it needs to make him feel comfortable with wanting to know what is to come. That does not always happen in the first line, but usually happens in the first paragraph.
Do you find first lines easy to come up with, or challenging? Do you have a technique, or a ritual, that you go by to make it easy?
The first line is not usually difficult for me. That being said, I often think of what I want to say first, then eliminate the first three or so sentences in my head and start with the fourth.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
A poorly written first line runs the risk of shutting the reader down immediately. I think a first line should be shorter than longer. A long rambling first line tells me the story may be the same. . . long and rambling and then I’m done.
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
My favorite first line is from Sylvia Plath’s, “The Bell Jar”
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
Why is it my favorite first line? I don’t know exactly. It may be the way the words play in my head, it may be the juxtaposition of sultry with the “shock”, as it were, of electrocution. I am invited in for more.
Worst first lines? I’ve never been a fan of Melville’s,
Call me Ishmael
but that is more because I’ve never been able to get through “Moby DIck”. Soooo, a first line that exemplifies what I find a turn off would be this:
I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call’d me.
- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)
What is one of your own best first lines?
My own first lines don’t stand on their own well, they are supported by what follows but, in one of my current works, I have a first line that I like:
The train case, circa 1960, green with beige trim, sat on the bench in the middle of the boat next to my father, his hand on top, guardian of the contents; my mother’s ashes.
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
I am directionally challenged.
What are some things a first line *shouldn’t* be? What are some things that you’ve read in first lines that really rubs you the wrong way?
I really don’t enjoy a first line that insists on packing in a lot of superfluous information. I know Defoe wrote ‘Robinson Crusoe” centuries ago but, it’s a classic that I find long and rambling.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
My best advice for any writer is to just start writing. Your best first line might actually come somewhere in the middle of your first paragraph. You’ll know it when you see it.
Do you have any final words?
My favorite, “The End”.
Raised in an affluent suburb of Detroit, Judi Coltman grew up in a female heavy household with an urban sense of “normal.” Coltman attended Michigan State University, majoring in Journalism until a professor requested she switch majors – “Apparently making a story better with added features isn’t acceptable in the news world,” Coltman laments. With a BA in English from Northern Illinois University, Coltman has written for local, regional and national publications.
Most recently, Coltman has been focusing on her true passion, delving into the realm or fiction. In The Name Of The Father is Coltman’s first novel, a suspense/thriller. Currently working on her next novel, Coltman is still writing a blog called, “My Life in a Nutshell,” from where her humorous book material was born. Often compared to Erma Bombeck, Coltman sees the humor in the absurdity of everyday life and then tells anyone who will listen.
Judi Coltman and her husband split their time between northern Illinois and the California desert. Sometimes they even pass each other at the airport.