Monday, June 3, 2013

The First Line - Getting It Write

Over time, novel opening lines have been there to inspire parody, haunt the memory, or, and this is their critical importance, no matter how or by what technique, the reader must read the next line. And then the next until that most desired line of all - the concluding one. You might have favorite opening lines or know the classics. If you have the urge to write, you probably do.

J.D. Salinger in Catcher in the Rye relied on Charles Dickens and David Copperfield. Chris Cleave in Incendiary begins with: "Dear Osama they want you dead or alive so the terror will stop." Janet Evanovich starts with a different tone in One for the Money. She writes: "There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up for ever."

And no, Herman Melville hasn't been forgotten. You can fill in the blank. "They call me _______."

Writers and readers have a convergence, they both must start at the same words. So what kind of advice would it be to advise to start at the beginning? Well, it's true. It's necessary. The sticky point is: is the start enticing?

It's been claimed that one Montana writer spent eight years working on his novel's opening line. While the truth may not be known, there's one truth that's inescapable. Once the line is written for the last time, it's there for history. A daunting challenge, for sure.

Rather than go off on the theoretical, I've decided to set forth the opening lines currently topping the page of several works in progress. There's no rule that says an opening line can't be created by more than one person, although cartoonists have been having fun with committee creations for decades.

There's no right or wrong dream to where the words point, so enjoy. (I've substituted initials for character names. If your opening line wants to use initials for a character, go for it.)

1.  "Standing motionless, A.G. counted the day as both zero and one."

2.  "Chocolate smelled sweet, death did not."

3.  "E. feared that, if she looked, it would still be there."

4.  "Huffing and puffing, G.K. welcomed fatigue to punish his lack of imagination."

5.  "To counteract her chest-tightening sadness, A.H. squeezed both hands gripping her
       Ford F-150 steering wheel until her fingers ached and the depression between her
       raised knuckles mimicked the ruts in the rural road leading to Grandma's farm."

6.  "'Don't need help,' R.K., in the Angel Springs, Louisiana, Bayou Downs barn,
       admonished Uncle Joe."

7.  "Passersby would believe J.O.'s eyes gazed aimlessly past bobbing shrimp boats to
      the Gulf of Mexico horizon."

8.  "A. F. grieved the loss of two mothers."

An intriguing exercise, should you wish to do it, would be to write the second sentence to each of the above. If you do, you're on your way to completing your story. And, that's the hidden point of writing an opening line. It gets you started.

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