“There are a lot of good first lines. Line 1,157? Not so much.”
I saw this tweet — or something like it — recently, and it got me thinking. (I believe it came from Don Maas, but don’t hold me to it. My Twitter feed is large and growing bigger everyday.)
No doubt about it, first lines are important. People with a lot more expertise than I have will tell you how that first sentence hooks readers, sets the tone and imparts just enough detail to make everyone want more.
A few great first lines from pubbed authors (interspersed with some faves from my own writing):
— “At precisely one o’clock on a sunny September Saturday afternoon, Megan McGuire spied the pirate.” (“Dreaming of Home,” Glynna Kaye)
— “Meg Malone’s day began a slow, downward slide at 7:42 a.m., the precise moment she squinted down at the pregnancy test stick in her hand, hoping like hell she’d misread it.” (My 2011 Golden Heart finaling MS, “Beauty and the Ballplayer”)
— “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” (“Gone with the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell)
— “There was no way around it. Catching Mr. right was damn hard work.” (“On the Fence,” Keri Ford)
— “Bethany Lincoln scowled at the now-dark cell phone in her hand, missing the good old days when she could slam the receiver down in disgust.” (My WIP “Trouble in Paradise?”)
— “‘Here in Porcupine, some folks have sex just to keep warm.'” (“Nerd Gone Wild, Vicki Lewis Thompson)
— “Heaven — in the form of a cozy birthday dinner for two, followed by some dancing and a little naughty sex — would just have to wait.” (My first finished MS, “Operation Snag
— “The best thing about being a werewolf was that you never needed a sports bra.” (“The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf, Molly Harper)
Great stuff, right?
The trick, of course, is making our prose sparkle all the way through. Line 1,157 is seldom as catchy, punchy and witty as line one.
But why is that?
I suspect familiarity breeds … maybe not contempt, but boredom. As the story unfolds beyond the first pages, the rosy blush is gone. We’ve seen the hero and heroine at their worst … caught them with their pants down (both figuratively and literally, most likely.)
Don’t ask me how to overcome the phenomenon. I’ve noticed in my current WIP that, while I love the first several chapters, I’m beginning to feel like I’m slogging along. I must be in the dreaded sagging middle.
Any of you with advice, feel free to leave it in the comments. I’ll take all the tips I can get.
Can’t get enough great first lines? Hop on over to the Starcatchers’ blog, where I asked my Starcatcher sistren to share some of their favorites.