Sunday, 4 October 2015

Writing That Killer First Line

There is nothing better than coming up with a new story idea and writing that brilliant first line to draw your audience in. Let’s look at a few examples:

“I’m pretty much fucked.”   
      -  The Martian by Andy Weir 

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


Both of these first lines immediately draw in the audience. We want to know why the narrator is fucked! We want to know how the hell somebody can be born twice and know about it!

There is nothing worse than opening a book to the first page and seeing: “My name’s Emma Brooks, I’m 19 years old, I live in London with my mum and dad.” That really just makes me want to blow my brains out. Of course, details like this are important to finding out information about our protagonist, but the way we find these things out should be through something like speech, usually iterated by another character. “Emma…we’re moving.” See, it moves the plot along while also informing the reader the name of our protagonist.

But, we’re getting off course now.  

That first line is important. It can be the difference between somebody giving your novel a chance, or putting it back on the shelf because it doesn’t grab their attention. The more generic the first line, the harder it will be to prove yourself to your readers. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve read a novel where the first incident that grabbed my attention happened on page 115.

Be careful. There’s always the risk your first line will set up too much expectation for the rest of the story and you face the problem of ensuring the story meets those high expectations.

That killer first line usually pops into your head once in a blue moon, no matter how complex or simple, it usually happens when least expected. Typically during a time you can’t write it down!

I’ve learnt that instead of obsessing over the first line, I just simply start the story. I start at the beginning and write till the end. Then I go back. By now I know the story inside out, I know the characters really well and the world I’ve created. Usually it’s much easier to edit that first line and come up with something that will really grab the reader’s attention. So just tell your story. The right first line will come to you eventually.

For my dissertation module this year I have currently written 1,500 words of it and I love my first line. My tutor loves my first line, and I deem this an epic start to a story and it reads as follows: ‘Ask anyone to describe Kyle Davies in one word, they’d all say the same thing. Cunt.’

This is a little exclusive for you. Congratulations. I’m sure it’s made your day.

I think immediately this will shock people. I hope it’s shocked you. Shocking people usually makes them interested to read a little more…and then a little more. I believe I have the definition of a killer first line, and if you tell me wrong, I will ignore you. Just kidding…

Yours weekly,

Jennie Byrne

@mustbejlb (on Instagram and Twitter)

Share your thoughts below. All comments and suggestions are welcome.

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