I was tagged in a writing challenge to share the first line in my first three chapters on my work in progress. I chose to share from one of my YA fantasy novels.
First sentences are everything. They set the tone, the voice, the setting — they must hook the reader. Some people mull over and stress about this solid first line for months, maybe years. The daunting first sentence can become a wall that makes it so you never even want to start your novel. My advice would be to start anyway. Don’t think about fancy phrasing, or perfect eye catching action. Just start and let the words flow. Then go back and fix things. Personally, I love the itchy fingers when I think of a new idea. Sure I’ve written and re-written first lines over and over again, but this was usually after I’ve finished the book or the chapter.
The best advise I have received about a opening sentence, was the critiquing during a publication primer group. I also entered into a first chapter competition at the same time, and the feedback from the judges were exactly the same.
Below is my old first sentence, followed by the new first sentence. See if you can catch the difference.
We ran, dodging cornstalks as if they were spears rooting into the land.
I stood on a bluff overlooking our lower pastures. Against the scarlet horizon, chaos erupted from the small town.
I was dead set on the original sentence, thinking it was perfect to start with action. But the advise and feedback I received was that I needed a setting. “We ran” didn’t tell the reader anything about where they were, or what time frame we were in. In fact, the word “spears” made them think that the setting could be in ancient times, which was totally not the case. After that was brought to my attention, it was fun for me to create a one page scene before my characters ran. It still starts out with plenty of action, but my characters are witnessing it, rather then running from it.
Here are my first lines from Chapters Two and Three. (I’ve switched points of view in Chapter two, just so you know)
“Master Caul, it is time to serve your birthday cake,” a timid voice carried from the doorway. As I glared out the window, my fingers gripped around the tapestry with one hand. I lifted the other to wave her away.
Stepping out of the Ark and onto the ground above, grey ash fell soft like snow-flakes on a melancholy night.
* Now for my favorite first sentences in all of history, and I swear if my husband said this to me as a cheesy pick-up line when we first met, I would have said “yes!” right then and there. This shows a little glimpse into how much I love Tolkien. This is from The Hobbit. These opening sentences have everything; setting, senses, voice, character, and if you know the rest of the story which is filled with adventure, how perfectly humble it is to start inside a hole in the ground. It leaves us asking “what is a hobbit? I must read more to find out.” That my friends, is a hook.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down or eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.”
If you’ve got a first line you’d like to share, I’d love to read it in the comments below 🙂