Thursday, July 24, 2008

First Lines

Tip of the Day: When writing at the café, order your drinks sans whip cream. It’s like 200-250 calories and only lasts two seconds anyway.

I’ve subscribed to Writer’s Digest FOREVER. Like, way before I started getting the bulk of my writing related news and tips on the Internet. So, I think that would be college, maybe high school. And yes—the Internet was around back then (I’m not THAT old), I just didn’t use it very often.

Lately I find myself disagreeing more and more with various articles in it though. So much that I’m thinking about not renewing my subscription this next year (GASP).

For example, in this last issue there was an article about how important first lines are. And I agree—the beginning of a book is so important. You’ve got to grab your reader and make them want to read your book. But this particular writer was saying (well, ok. I think he said his teacher taught him this but he was backing him up) that the FIRST LINE had to tell the reader everything they need to know—specifically who the main character is, where they are, and what’s going on.

To me, this is BORING. I don’t want to follow some formula for my first line. Yeah, up front the reader should be able to figure out where we are going and our main character etc. but all in the very first line? Nah. Let’s look at a couple of my first lines:

From REVENGE QUEEN: "Is your ex-best friend passing around pictures of you drunk and topless?"

From NIGHT AT CLAIRE'S: “Oh dear lord…” I whisper under my breath.

Ok, you obviously won’t get the whole story from those first lines. And I don’t want you to. You will shortly figure out where I’m headed though if you read on.

Let me try another one. With THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, my main character, Jane, keeps a notebook where she’s basically defining people based on their favorite coffee drinks and she calls this “Espressology”. I open the book with her making an entry into the notebook.

Large, nonfat, four-shot café latte

Cocky, sex deprived, butthead guy drink. Expect only the upmost stupidity to come out of his mouth. So-so body, could stand to work out more. Crappy dresser…

You don’t know where I’m going from the first line of the book but you soon figure out what’s going on. If I were to use the formula suggested in the WD article I’d have a line like this instead,

“Jane Turner, a high school student and coffee barista, is at work making notes in her notebook about a customer who just came in.”


Ok, It’s not THAT bad but I like my opening better.

What about you guys? Do you follow this type of first line advice? What are some of your first lines?

Kristina, Miss Soon-to-Pub


amuse me said...

I read the same article and couldn't believe that was being touted. Your opening lines grab, there is no doubt about that. Makes me want to go back and look at every first line of every chapter in what I'm working on.

I like your idea of not giving everything away so quickly.

Tabitha said...

The only advice I follow is what my story gives me. :) And my story is going to tell me to start where the conflict begins, and make the reader ask questions that they want answers to, so they'll keep reading.

I think that the first chapter should say "who the main character is, where they are, and what’s going on." But not necessarily the first line. Or even the first paragraph. It all depends on the story.

For that reason, I think formulas can't be absolute with writing. They can only be used as guidelines, because, unlike in mathematics, they don't always work. Just my opinion. :)

Emily Marshall said...

Interesting. I haven't read that article. I do agree on some levels. Though, I really hope they weren't meaning literally tell the reader those things upfront. Because I think you can get a feel about your main character and setting from the lines you gave Tina. But not necessarily come right out and say it. I'd hope that's what they meant in the article. I'll have to go check it out now.

DeenaML said...

Strange article. Did they give examples? I don't know if I buy it either. Your lines, Tina, are catchy and give the VOICE of the novel, but don't tell you everything!

Kristina Springer said...

I totally agree with telling those things up front early on-- but the article was literally saying your FIRST LINE needed this info. Weird.

Kate Fall said...

Sometimes those articles are like radio show hosts. It's hard to believe they totally buy into the position they're taking. I let my Writers Digest subscription lapse. I wasn't getting much out of it. I find articles targeted to YA and MG writing much more valuable. Plus all those WD ads for self-publishing are crazy.

The article forgot to throw in a sense of the MC's goal and personality, and make that line hook! Honestly, how much weight is one sentence gonna carry without sounding awkward?

Lisa Schroeder said...

I bet we would be hard-pressed to find first lines that do all that they say they should do.