Thursday, April 03, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

First lines!  I'm fairly sure I've blogged about this before, but it's been long enough that I figure the topic is due another inspection.

I spend a lot of energy on my first lines, even for novels - the leaping-off point is very important to me.  As a general rule of thumb, the hook for a short story needs to be snappier and more immediate than for a novel, simply because you have less room to run.

For me, even the most slow-burn opening sentence of a novel has to fulfill one criteria:  it has to make the reader ask at least one question.  It may be an immediate punch of a question or simply something that catches the attention.  There can be more than one implicit question; one is simply the entry requirement.  One fun way to do this is with something that seems contradictory on the surface - it provokes a, "What do you mean XYZ?  That makes no sense!" reaction from a reader.  These tend to need to be explained quickly, though.

If this bears some similarity to my discussion of book titles, it's no accident:  there is definitely some overlap in tactics and purpose.

I've mentioned before that my favorite first line from a published novel is in Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, which is:  

My father had a father that could stop a clock.

What's beautiful about this line, of course, is the answer to this inverts expectations:  you expect "stop a clock" to be a figurative expression, of ugliness or maybe a stern expression ... and it turns out to be literal.

Another question I like to pose is to use a term or description that makes a reader wonder, "What is that?"  I'm sure there are punchier, more interesting lines, but my personal favorite from my works is:

The Houseless were drunk on the veranda.

What is a Houseless?  The word would imply some kind of dispossession, which perhaps explains why they are on the narrator's veranda ... there's actually two or three questions here, elaborated upon in the sentences that follow.

There's one more aspect to a first sentence that is important:  it should be the first building block to establishing tone.  A comic story shouldn't start with a weighty paragraph (unless the sudden inversion is part of the humor).  A serious, sober story shouldn't start with slapstick.  (Usually.  There are exceptions to everything.)  Who Wants To Be A Hero? starts thusly:

Ioweyn stood in the Waiting Chamber of the Gods and tried not to fidget.   

Which I'll grant is not immediately funny, but it has some quirk of humor to it.

A few other random beginnings:

Being shipwrecked, the thought rose to the surface of Miayde’s mind, had a dismaying impact on her dignity.  (Butterfly's Poison)

Time is more important to me than it is to anyone else.   (Stolen Moments)

Every soldier in the Pitharian army waited on the command of their captain – but every soldier also kept half an eye out for the sorceress, watching her wend across the battlefield even if they could not see her.  (The Heat of Battle)

Rosh always wore the shoes when she killed.  (In These Shoes)

The dragon’s harsh breath beat down on my face, with the decaying sweetness of fear and anxiety.  (Nesting Instinct)

Anyone got any favorite lines - their own or another writer's - they want to share?


Susan said...

If was a dark and stormy night??

Susan said...

It was a dark and stormy night. DYAC