Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
To me, first lines are all about tempting a reader in and setting the tone for the story to come. It, combined with the first few pages, will make or break a sale for a reader sampling. As we move into the digital world with the increase in sampling used in buying decisions, the first line becomes all the more important.
There are a lot of great books out there. Yours must stand out. A good first line, followed by a good solid engaging story, will help you do that.
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?
It really depends on the project, as so much in writing does. Sometimes a brilliant first line will come to mind. Other times, I just have to slap something up there to start a first draft, and only when the revision process starts will I go back and craft a new first line. By then I also know more about the story, which will make coming up with a first line easier.
Well, typically easier. There are some books that fight the process every step of the way. Heh.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
It depends on the mistake. A really bad first line will mark the author as an amateur writer who has not learned their craft. When it’s published, it will cost the author and publisher sales. As much as writers love the art of writing, it is ultimately a business. No sales means no career.
What’s your favorite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
Oh, goodness, specifics? My mind just went blank. How about I tell you the types?
Favorites: First lines that grab attention with a great character tied to a bit of action. Dialogue lines are great with this, but I’ve seen it done without, too. Usually by letting us see into the thoughts of a character as they observe something about his or her world/situation.
Worst: Scenery or setting description. If I’m in a charitable mood, I might skim forward to see if something happens in the next few pages.If I’m not, then I set the book down.
What is one of your own best first lines?
Two of them really compete for me. If I had to choose, “Coffee Cup Dreams” would win with the first line of:
She wasn’t supposed to wake up when dead.
“Glint of a Suncatcher” comes in close behind with:
“I know the head is around here somewhere!”
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
“Where the Purple Grass Grows”
The locals called the planet ‘Vorstogen‘, after an original founder of the human colony. In defence of the line, the rest of the paragraph balances it out! Hehe.
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?
First lines that have nothing to do with the book always bug me. Entice me in with a clever first line to find it’s irrelevant to the story being told? I’ll be careful about ever buying the writer’s work again. To me, this is the equivalent of lying about the story.
Don’t break one of the rules of the reader/writer contract. In this case, I refer to the following rules:
• The author will respect the intelligence of the reader.
• The author will not waste the time of the reader. (Some phrase this as “The author will not deceive the reader”)
Yes, I’ve seen first lines break both of the above rules.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
My big suggestion is to do the one thing every writer should be doing: read.
Study your favorite books. What were the first lines? Does it call you? Why? Do you see any common themes or what sort of first lines they are?
Just as important is to study what turns you off. Why? What is it about it that you don’t like? Are there any commonalities between it and other first lines you don’t like?
Then there is practice. Think of how you would change the first line of a book to something better. Even more important, keep writing and practice it with your own work. A writer learns by practice. Just as a musician practices with their instrument, writing new words is a writer’s practice.
Do you have any final words?
Be flexible. If a good first line does not come right at first, do not let it stop you from continuing to write. Writers are blessed with something called “Revision.” Come back during revision and start crafting a good first line which will work with the story that’s been told. It may take several tries. That’s okay. If you keep working on
it, learn from what others have done, keep practising, then it will come.
J.A. Marlow is a science fiction writer Science fiction writer who loves great plots, interesting characters, and exotic locales accompanied by a sense of wonder. http://jamarlow.com