Do you consider the first line to be an important part of a story? If so, why?
The first line of a story is important because it has so much power. We’ve given it power! Before there was twitter, there were opening lines, and people have always loved sharing and discussing them.
Like the cover, the first line sets a tone, even if it doesn’t make clear any action or setting. The first line can give comfort or create tension. Its purpose is to make you read the second line. The second line’s purpose is to make you read the third.
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 have no trouble writing first lines that intrigue me, but I’ve worked in retail sales, and I hang out with many people who have ADD. Real life has trained me in how to grab someone’s attention.
I’ve written half a dozen books now, and my technique varies. I’ve spent entire sessions writing lines that didn’t get used, but these days I’m inclined to go to print with the opening I wrote during the first draft. I figure if it was good enough to get an entire book rolling, it can’t be too shabby.
What consequences, if any, do you think there are in having a badly written first line?
Bad opening lines have horrifying consequences: the eye roll from a fellow author; the disappointed sigh from a book blogger; and a frown from my husband, who is my first reader.
What’s your favourite first line that you’ve ever read? And can you recall a worst?
I have many favourites, but here’s the great one from Douglas Coupland’s Life After God:
I was driving up to Prince George to the home of your grandfather, the golf wino.
It’s in second-person! It’s full of so much colour, plus it hints that dirt is about to be dished. As a bonus for me, personally, I’ve driven to Prince George a number of times in my life, so there’s a personal connection as well.
The worst are the ones that could come from any novel:
She awoke from the nightmare, dripping in sweat, blah blah blah.
(I’m making this up, but you could probably find it in a few books.)
What is one of your own best first lines?
I may be getting a little too clever here for my own good, but I just finished working on two paranormal books and I’m switching back to a contemporary romantic-comedy type of book, and this is the opening line:
My superpower is knowing how people like their eggs.
It’s a cute enough line, for a waitress character, and I love how it feels like an in-joke, if only to myself and my three fans who might follow my books closely enough to get the reference.
We’re all sharing here! What’s one of your worst first lines?
On the cutting-room floor is this little gem:
Love is like rising bread dough.
The line is not horrible, but for Practice Cake, I went with an opening that had less of a narrative frame.
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?
While it shouldn’t be generic, neither should a first line be overwrought and overworked. I love first lines that are smart, but cool, and writers who make it look effortless.
Two adjectives is one and a half too many. (I love saying that because it irritates people!)
Do you have any suggestions for other authors on how to write a great first line? Have you heard any great advice yourself?
I advise my fellow authors to look at the original first line from their first draft. Why not groom its eyebrows and use that one?
I’ve read many books about the craft of writing and absorbed so much advice. I love it when people say things like, “Be yourself, but more interesting.” I love advice that is contradictory, because it just goes to show how totally useless advice is, compared to experience.
Dalya Moon writes funny, sweet, weird novels that don’t fit easily into genres, much to her dismay. Her contemporary, humorous Life in Saltwater City series is popular with teens and adults, and includes her bestselling book, Practice Cake. For paranormal fans, The Paranormal Poke Chronicles features a male protagonist, named Zan, with an unusual psychic power in his belly button.