Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
Absolutely. While some may regard it as a minor thing, the first line can set the tone for an entire novel. Whether the first line is dialogue or something rich in description, it can give your reader cues for what to settle in for in regards to the story.
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?
I always start with a line of dialogue. Sometimes it stays through to the finished product and sometimes it doesn’t, but dialogue is where it begins for me. My books are all about the characters, so I find this ritual of sorts appropriate.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
Losing your reader, I imagine. I can think of a number of ways a first line would turn me off. Some of it depends on my mood and what I’m wanting to read – a first line dense with a lot of description an technical terms isn’t going to fly when I want something light and fluffy – and some of it depends on whether I think the author is trying to use the first line to show off.
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
There is a monologue I performed in high school that has one of my favourite first lines:
Construction in New York is a bitch.
(From The Reincarnation of Jaime Brown.) This line may seem so short and innocent, but it sets up so much from the reader like character voice and setting.
What is one of your own best first lines?
I don’t have many published, as of yet. But one from an upcoming novel that I am particularly fond of is:
With the critical gaze of a woman who had just finished celebrating her fortieth birthday, Penelope Mitchel lifted her right breast and jiggled it.
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
Haha. Probably the same one as above.
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
Let it be natural. Don’t try to pose or sound any particular way. Writing a great first line involves relaxing into your writing space and voice, not relaxing three paragraphs later once you have the flowery prose out of your system.
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?
This ties into the answer I gave above. I don’t care for it when the author is trying to ‘sound like’ anyone or anything else. That sort of thing gives the writing a ‘feel’ to it, and I – as a reader – can’t relax into the story until the author does.
Jaime McDougall is a citizen of the world, currently loving life in beautiful country Victoria in Australia. She loves eating sushi, kidnapping her husband and naming her pets in honour of science fiction authors.
She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: High School: The Real Deal and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles. So You Want an Online Book Tour is her most recent non-fiction ebook. Echo Falls is her first paranormal romance novel.
When she’s not writing novels, avoiding writing novels or eating sushi, she’s usually blogging at her website: http://www.inkyblots.com