Monday, April 8, 2013

First Lines

Chuck Wendig has a cool flash fiction challenge this week you might want to check out, but that's not why I am posting.

I am posting because if you check out the comments section, you will see three hundred (and counting) first lines. I find it very illuminating to read nothing but first lines. When I was first starting out, I wanted a hooky first line. Something that really punched you in the face. 

And a really hooky first line that works with the rest of the paragraph? That's amazing. But I've learned over the years that coming up with something really hooky isn't as hard as I thought, but connecting it to the rest of the paragraph and story is nearly impossible. A really hooky first line demands your attention. 

For example, one I just made up just now: "The last time I died I thought I would come back as an angel." 

It's pretty crappy, I know, but work with me here. Look at how much attention that sentence calls to itself. "I'm interesting and mysterious! Look, my main character died and came back as something other than an angel! How cool is that??"

Attention is a good thing when a reader is browsing through books at the bookstore. *insert obligatory joke about how bookstores are disappearing and soon we'll have nothing but digital books and it's the bookocalypse* *curls into the fetal position and cries* But if that sentence doesn't flow naturally into the next paragraph, and into the first page and so on, it's got to go. Seriously. Sometimes a more quiet opening line can pack a bigger punch. 

Hooky first lines can be great. The current opening line to Zombie Road Trip is: "The first time I ever raised a dead body was at my grandmother's funeral."

It's still rough, and might change, but for the time being, it flows. The next line is: "It was basically like Night of the Living Dead, the Grandma edition."

Each sentence needs to build on the previous one, or the reader's attention is going to wan. A slight less hooky first line, but one that flows perfectly into the next few lines is much better than a hooky first line that just sits there.

But these are just my thoughts.

What do you think?


  1. I don't think it's crappy. "The last time I died" is an interesting concept that makes me want to know what's going on.

    (Although it hits a pet peeve of mine when people refer to the deceased as potential angels since that does not fit the mythology of any of the major religions. Angels are separate beings from humans.)

    Also, nice new style for the blog. Me likey.

    1. I do like really hooky first lines. I just don't think they're where the work stops, and can hurt your novel if it doesn't properly flow with the rest of the prose. :D

      And yes, a pet peeve of mine too. I was going to say cockroach, but I thought angel was more appropriate.

  2. I'm a big slave to the "hooky" first line. But you've got an interesting point about building. It's like the first sentence needs to be the foundation of the building, and not the flashy trim paint. Of course, what's awesome about your start to ZRT is that the first sentence *looks* like the flashy trim on that eccentric house next door, but then it turns out to be the foundation! Which means you haven't even hit the flashy trim part.

    1. Slave is a good word for it. And thanks for the ego boost. ;)