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Old 03-18-2017, 02:50 PM
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the first line of a novel

'They' say, The first line of a story is Very important - crucial even.
more explanation of that if you want it

so, which is 'better' for perking interest?

She came having learned stuff over the years, like how not to burn her nose while lighting a cigarette she found on the sidewalk.

OR

In the early morning hours, with the sun in her face and the ocean at her back, all her possessions stuffed in the SUV, she drives [to escape].

OR

Neither, go back to the drawing board.

to me, the first is a psychological kind of start and the second a more physical start [too dramatic too soon?] or [necessary to alleviate boredom?]

la

p.s.s.t. i Promise, i will not plague you with silly questions about every line of my writings!
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Old 03-18-2017, 08:10 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

She came to where?

Books written in the present tense annoy me (unless they're seriously good and have a great first person narrator, like Smilla's Sense of Snow). When did that become so fashionable?

Still, of the two lines you've written, I like the second one best. The first is too cute, and hinting at plot is usually a better opening gambit than hinting at character.

I see the article quotes the first line of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Without doubt a great one. But the author forgot perhaps the greatest short hook in modern English literature--

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

Last edited by musket : 03-18-2017 at 08:16 PM.
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Old 03-19-2017, 10:54 AM
budigart budigart is offline
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Re: the first line of a novel

First lines are important. For example, the first line of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka goes like this (I may miss a word or two): Gregory Samsa awoke one morning and found himself transformed into a giant bug.

The theory is that most stories, especially fiction, contains a fatal flaw . . . usually a minor problem that could have been easily settled, thus negating the need for writing the story in the first place. The idea, then, is to tell your "lie" as early as possible. If your reader buys it, he/she will buy anything else you say in the story. As you can see, the first thing Kafka said was the big lie. The rest of the story is also full of troublesome images, but if you bought the idea that Gregory turned into a bug, you'll buy the rest of it.
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Old 03-19-2017, 02:04 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

thanks musket, lol, the 'where' is later in the paragraph and yeah, i getcha on the present tense thing - edits include making sure it's consistent there as i've played around, experimenting.

interesting, budi, thanks ... way too many lies in my story to glimmer all of them in a first line, but will ponder that, see if i can come up with a doozie.

la
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Old 03-20-2017, 09:04 AM
briansommers briansommers is offline
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Re: the first line of a novel

For me, go back to the drawing board.
Both feel odd to me.
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Old 03-20-2017, 10:11 AM
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Re: the first line of a novel

I like the second one better.
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Old 03-20-2017, 01:16 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

already there, brian, thanks
noted, DM, thanks

la
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Old 03-20-2017, 01:23 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

Quote:
She came having learned stuff over the years, like how not to burn her nose while lighting a cigarette she found on the sidewalk.
The where is lacking in the first, but it holds my interest more than the other options.

She had arrived at a point in her life where hard earned lessons were now_______
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:03 PM
croggly croggly is offline
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Re: the first line of a novel

Quote:
Originally Posted by La_

She came having learned stuff over the years, like how not to burn her nose while lighting a cigarette she found on the sidewalk.



I like the first one, but it seems a bit wordy. Let the reader feel the years instead of telling them?

"She came in knowing how not to burn her nose lighting sidewalk-cigarettes."

?
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:04 PM
BeLing BeLing is offline
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Re: the first line of a novel

Back to the drawing board.
Both sentences are too long.
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:12 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

Sorry, Jon, but La's original version is more evocative than your revision.

There are three ways to go, or any combination of them: place, plot, character.

If you're going to go with character, well, it's best to say something about the character. In La's line, we get some idea of what the character is like. What kind of person is apt to burn her nose on a discarded cigarette? I suppose we could infer she's a real klutz, since burning your nose on a cigarette is not all that readily done even if it isn't one you picked up from a sidewalk. Easier if it's a cigarette butt, which ought to be specified, if it is.

Quote:
She came having learned stuff over the years, like how not to burn her nose while lighting a cigarette butt she found on the sidewalk.

This would imply that she's pretty down and out, which La may or may not intend. It also flows better, because of the distant alliteration between burn and butt. I don't know how La will feel about it, but I think that's an important word to add, if indeed the character has to scrounge mostly already smoked cigarettes off the sidewalk (consider scrounged off the sidewalk instead of found on the sidewalk... more evocative and also alliterative).

The second is much more straightforward. It's plot driven. We know the character is trying to escape from somewhere, but we know nothing at all about what kind of person she is. What is she trying to escape, where is she going, and why? It's the kind of opener you might find in a crime novel, thriller or novel of psychological suspense.

This is the opener of Carol O'Connell's Killing Critics. This is place to the nth degree--

Quote:
Speakers were hidden in every wall, their cloth covers painted over many times to render them invisible and to baffle the sound of Jean-Luc Ponty's Civilized Evil.

So. You gotta figure out what you're hinting at.

I will add that while the first line is indeed important, I tend to give a book a paragraph or two before I make up my mind.

First two paragraphs of the same book--

Quote:
Speakers were hidden in every wall, their cloth covers painted over many times to render them invisible and to baffle the sound of Jean-Luc Ponty's Civilized Evil. Throughout the evening, the dark sweet music of the jazz violin had been muted-- string and drums subdued to the level of a backdrop for a hundred inane conversations. A ripple of notes chaining into chords wove around the art gallery patrons as a subliminal entity. The crowd inhaled the music with every breath, and it hovered over their food and wine.

Dean Starr's head nodded, almost imperceptibly, to the beat of a drum just beyond the reach of his awareness. Much was beyond him this evening. In fact, he had just been stabbed and hadn't the wit to know it.

Another great opener from the redoubtable Ms. O'Connell's Find Me--

Quote:
The haunt of Grand Central Station was a small girl with matted hair and dirty clothes. She appeared only in the commuter hours, morning and evening, when the child believed she could go invisibly among the throng of travelers in crisscrossing foot traffic, as if that incredible face could go anywhere without attracting stares. Concessionaires reached for their phones to call the number on a policeman's card and say, "She's back."

One more, this time a one-sentence first paragraph from Bone by Bone--

Quote:
A batty old man of the cloth had once described the Hobbs boy as a joke of God's; an archangel of the warrior cast and a beacon for women with carnal intentions.

That's the way you do it.

Last edited by musket : 03-20-2017 at 04:02 PM.
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:28 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

Quote:
Originally Posted by croggly
I like the first one, but it seems a bit wordy. Let the reader feel the years instead of telling them?

"She came in knowing how not to burn her nose lighting sidewalk-cigarettes."

?

There's a difference between came and came in.
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Old 03-20-2017, 03:58 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

I think you should play around with both sentences more, La. Either character or plot will work, but they both need a little cleaning up. However, most writers I know (quite a few) usually just go for it in a first draft, get it all down as it comes, and then clean it up in the second, or the third or fourth or fifteenth as the case may be. Don't get stuck on the opening line. You may find that the best opener is actually somewhere further along.
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Old 03-20-2017, 04:19 PM
croggly croggly is offline
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Re: the first line of a novel

Quote:
Originally Posted by musket
There's a difference between came and came in.


Yes. I was looking to clarify and suggested "in".

Also, I think you're right about getting something down and moving on so you can come back later. You might be able to change that first sentence (or paragraph) based on something that happens later in the story.
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Old 03-20-2017, 05:10 PM
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Re: the first line of a novel

I think it's probably difficult to assess how good a hook is, in most cases, without knowing what follows it.

Sometimes a writer just nails it, as DuMaurier did in Rebecca, or Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, or Stephen King in The Body, on which the movie Stand by Me is based--

Quote:
The most important things are the hardest things to say.

But it's rare. Usually, the reader needs some context. That's why I usually dig in for a few paragraphs before deciding whether I'm hooked. Here's the first sentence of a short story by Raymond Chandler--

Quote:
There was a desert wind blowing that night.

By itself, this is no great shakes. But put it all together as the complete paragraph--

Quote:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Well, that sure works. As does this, all by itself-- here he nailed it with the first line of The Big Sleep.

Quote:
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.

Of course, it helps to be one of the greatest descriptive writers of all time. But Chandler worked at it. It didn't come easy for him. The good writers I know all have two things in common-- they're voracious readers, and they're merciless revisers of their own work.

Last edited by musket : 03-20-2017 at 05:27 PM.
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