I have begun a new project. Inspired by a writer friend of mine, I have decided to churn out a full novel-length manuscript in 60 days. He did it in 30, but I know I couldn’t possibly meet that goal.
I have decided that the focus of it should be the story I’ve had brewing in my head for over five years now—the one M. fell in love with when I first told it to her. It has already undergone four separate attempts at a start and numerous rewrites on each draft. Even if I’m not satisfied with it, I’ve only wasted two months, and I can always try again.
I want to completely start over from scratch, not using anything from my previous drafts of the story. This is supposed to make it easier, allowing me to write without restraint and without trying to shoehorn in previous ideas that will end up taking away from the narrative as a whole. But, in completely starting fresh, I’ve run into a predicament. Sometimes the hardest thing about starting a new story, whether short or novel-length, is writing that perfect first line.
There are numerous methods to writing first lines. You can set the scene. You can introduce the characters. You can start with dialogue. You can start with a message to the audience, explaining what they will soon be reading. I have looked at all of these, and still, the first line eludes me.
The first lines of a work are, in my opinion, the most important in the entire story. A reader not hooked by the first few sentences usually ends up being a reader lost, and then not a reader at all.
Some of my favorites:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher In The Rye
Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff.
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
(This one was brought to my attention by M., who says she put the book down after reading these first lines, convinced the book could only go downhill from there.)
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
George Orwell, 1984
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
William Gibson, Neuromancer
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
Stephen King, The Gunslinger
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
All this happened, more or less.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
All children, except one, grow up.
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This is the story that M. thinks will be my defining moment; therefore, it has to have a good opening. Right now, I am at a loss. I wouldn’t call this a block, necessarily—more like a speed bump in the writing process. Her advice was to skip the first sentence and start with the second; however, it just isn’t that easy for me. When I climb a set of steps, I always start with my left foot. If I start with my right, the whole process just feels . . . off. My writing process is the same way. I have to start in order. After that, I can jump around all I want . . . but I have to have that opening.
Once I have the perfect opening, my project will be underway. Wish me luck.