Saturday, April 6, 2013

F: First Line Rule

Sometimes I am oblivious to the rules of writing - you know, the ones that when you hear them you think, "Well duh!" But apparently I do not get the "Well Duh" moments until they smack me in the face.
Sadly this is true about the First Line Rule. I have no idea how it never clicked with me before, but if the first line of your story isn't catching, there is less chance of a reader continuing to read much further - or something to that effect. Granted, it could be an amazing first paragraph and that makes up for the first line rule.
I went to the ANWA writing conference back in February, and in one of these classes this rule was discussed. That's when I had my "Duh!" moment and realized that I needed to go back and see the way every book I have ever loved starts. I amused myself by going to the conference bookstore and picking up books at random to see what the first line was. I found myself buying a few books I never imagined I would, simply because that first line caught my attention so thoroughly.

Examples:

"Waking up in a hospital bed is never a good thing." - Vodnik by Bryce Moore

"I don't want to write this. Really, there's a lot that's happened in the last few months that I'd rather forget." - My Double Life by Janette Rallison

"Alicia Palmer stepped down from the coach with all the enthusiasm of a condemned prisoner about to meet the executioner." The Stranger She Married by Donna Hatch

I went running home to my bookshelf to pull down all of my favorite, battered with love, books to see what their first line is too.

Examples:

"I didn't know how long I had been in the king's prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before." The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
"I have just returned from a visit to my landlord - the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with." - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

"Summer in France was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a fifteen-year-old, a social and cultural esperince she'd never forget." A well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Suddenly I realized that I had better have a good, catching, first line if I wanted to get an agents attention. Not that my first lines were terrible, but I am not sure they were attention grabbing. But maybe they are now that I know the rule and have tried to follow it. I'll let you judge (feel free to comment, what do you think? I can only improve upon them if people are honest with me):

"Frantically looking for a place to put her hand, Natania stopped to breath. Pure panic had given her the strength to climb this far up the cliff face, but she was not sure it was enough to get her to the top."

"'Who the devil are you? And what do you mean by arriving at this unholy hour of the night?' Terrence Hyacinthe's temper had always been his worst attribute."

Thoughts?

PS: this is a fun blog to check out regarding first/last lines of books. http://firstlinelastline.blogspot.com/



7 comments:

  1. My current first line - 'The Ellery Cancer Center felt Kafkaesque.'

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  2. First lines really are important! I can see why you bought those books!

    I love the first line of Pride & Prejudice. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

    Have a great weekend!

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    1. I love that line! It's one of my favorites!

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  4. [oops typo above] This is so true about the first line, my favorite being Herman Melville's first line in Moby Dick: Call me Ishmael. Then there is the problem of that last line.....

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  5. I love first lines. I think they are so important to a story, and I've studied them in depth. You've quoted some fine first lines.

    My current favorite first line is ... "Something was about to break. The air felt thick, heavy, like when a tornado was about to touch down." - Relative Evil by Debra Erfert

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Thank you for your comments!