Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
YES! An opening line is your first impression. It’s like that first second when you see a new person. You’re going to make a judgment about them, whether you want to or not. First lines can make or break a book in a reader’s mind.
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?
First lines are really, really hard for me. When I worked at a newspaper writing articles, I would always write the first line last. I’d start in with all the other information and make sure that was good. I find it hard to write the beginning when you don’t know the end. Maybe this is backwards, but it’s how it works for me. I also try many different versions of an opening line to get it right. Reading them aloud helps a lot t
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?oo.
You risk the person looking at that book saying, “no thanks,” and moving on to something else. With the world moving so fast, and with text messages and tweeting, you have to make a good impression fast. Why waste words on something that isn’t going to get the reader’s attention?
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
I have a couple! From George Orwell’s 1984:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
Right away you know that this book isn’t about a world you’re familiar with. And I want to know about a world where the clocks strike 13.
From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
I can’t really say why I love this, but it just sets the tone for the entire book. You know that this is going to be about love. And marriage. And finding both.
As for the worst, I’d have to say the first line in a certain YA book with a sparkling vampire. It’s just awful.
What is one of your own best first lines?
Oh gosh, that’s a lot of pressure. Okay… *looks through docs* I guess I’ll go with a line from something I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November:
I was seven the first time I came upon a man bleeding on the other side of The Wall.
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
*searches again through docs* Oh, here’s one from the sequel of a book I’ll never publish. It’s just too angsty and ugh:
“I have a surprise for you,” Luke said, giving me a smile that made my knees weak, and my heart beat in overdrive.
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 have a degree in journalism, and we talked so much about the importance of the opening line of a story. The following things drive me nuts: Opening with the weather. Someone waking up. Showing up at a new school. Being on an airplane. Driving. Anyone doing a menial chore. The main character describing themselves in a mirror. I’ve read them time and time again, and unless you have a new twist on it, don’t do it.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
I’d write the first line last. Then you don’t put pressure on yourself and stare at a blank screen trying to think of the perfect first line. Just get into the story and worry about the first line later. Just don’t forget to go back!
Do you have any final words?
I’d just say don’t be afraid to be innovative. The lines we remember are the lines we haven’t heard before. Trying to imitate someone else will lead to lines that sound like everyone else’s.
Chelsea M. Cameron is a YA writer from Maine. Lover of things random and ridiculous, Jane Austen/Charlotte and Emily Bronte Fangirl, red velvet cake enthusiast, obsessive tea drinker, vegetarian, former cheerleader and world’s worst video gamer. When not writing, she enjoys watching infomercials, vacuuming and tweeting. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Maine, Orono that she promptly abandoned to write about the people in her own head.
She is hard at work on the sequel to Nocturnal, entitled Nightmare, due out in April 2012, as well as a series about ghosts and another series about things that go bump in the night. She’s also a social networking fanatic.