Tuesday, 28 July 2009

First line difficulties

I skimmed over a blog talking about first lines and out of the 20 odd examples quoted I hadn't read any of the books, but it did start me thinking about first lines.

They're important, I accept that. As a reader I know why - they either grab me, or they don't. If they don't, I may not go on to read the book. But as a writer, it becomes a whole different exercise. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.
An opening line can set the tone for the book,
show off my grasp of the language, or simple grab your attention, which is what I think most new authors think is meant by The Hook. Or it can be something witty, in which case you might think A-ha! I like this sense of humour and take the book home. If the author doesn't keep up that sense of humour, the relationship is doomed.
I suspect each book, and each first line, operates under different drivers depending on the type of book. Thriller, romance, literary novel? Should it be a question? Some profound insight? Something lyrical? Or should we start the action off and running, as Shakespeare used to do?
How do we ever decide? And why am I not surprised that the first page is the bit that gets changed the most!
Here are 3 examples. I guantee you will know the first one; but what about the next two?
(1) "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune, must be in want of a wife."
(2) "Left Munich at 8.35pm on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6.46, but the train was an hour late."
(3) "Every woman should marry for her own advantage since her husband will represent her, as visible as her front door, for the rest of his life."


N. Gemini Sasson said...

So true, Jen. I always check the opening line(s) to see what the tone is. If it's something that makes me ooh and ahh and wish I'd thought of it, I'm more likely to keep reading for awhile.

Ah, is that third one a Philippa Gregory novel? But which one? I've read a few in the last year and I'm not at home to check my shelves. This will bug me until I get home!

Jen Black said...

The third one is PG! The Other Queen.
Seems like everyone is on holiday - or else they don't know their first lines as well as you!

Carla said...

Is the second one "Dracula"? Doesn't immediately give a promise of vampires, does it?

Jen Black said...

Yep, it's Dracula!