I am so pleased to be hosting the wonderful Melissa Blue on my blog today. Melissa is here to talk about the importance of that crucial first line. As authors, we all know how hard it can be to come up with a zinger sometimes. Melissa has some great advice, so read on!
It Starts With the First Line
Eons ago I participated in Karin Tabke's First Line Contest. If you’ve never heard about this contest, it's pretty self-explanatory. You entered your first line. Now the next week, if you made the cut, you posted your second line. On and on until a winner was announced and an editor from one of the Big Six read your full. (Can’t remember which publisher.) One line. That's all you had to make the first cut. No pressure.
In case you were wondering…no I didn't win the contest, but I did learn something extremely valuable about writing opening lines.
Don't bite off more than you can chew. If your book doesn't involve things blowing up, dead bodies littering the pages or zombies, you probably shouldn't open with any of those things.
Books are not a contest. Sometimes getting read may feel like a contact sport, but, alas, it is not.
Don't try to fit everything in that one line.
There's more, but it all adds up to making a promise to your reader. That's what that first line is in so many ways. That opening line is saying this is what you should expect from the rest of the novel. I won't get on my soapbox, but I will say if it comes down to it I'd rather show character in that first line than plot. And, when you show character you can show story.
“Lynne Kelley squared her shoulders and channeled Scarlett O'Hara.”
That's the first line from See Lynne Chased. This says in no certain terms this character will channel Scarlett O'Hara if necessary. Who is O'Hara? Someone who doesn't make apologies for getting what she wants. Someone who will rip off her curtains and make a dress. That just takes chutzpah. Also, it shows this is at least a modern world where Scarlett O'Hara was written and/or lived. The tone is tongue in cheek, which fulfills my tag line's promise—romance with snark.
Is it the most memorable, greatest ever written, people should write odes to my first line kind of line? No. (But if you think so say so in the comments.) Was this an implied promise to whoever read the book they should expect something tongue in cheek and a heroine with chutzpah? Yes.
First lines are important. You don't have to get them right when you're writing the first draft. When you read them you don't have to break out your old English lit textbook to break it down and understand. Simply, first lines are important.
What are some of your favorite first lines?
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