Tuesday, June 2, 2009

First Lines Suck

Rachael Herron

The first line of my novel-in-progress is "'I need excitement,' Lucy said."

I hate it. It's an awful first line. I've hated it since I wrote it more than ninety-thousand words ago. But that's okay. It's a trick I play on myself. I want to hate my first line, because there's no way it's making it through the second draft alive. It's a constant reminder, every time I open the document, that changes will come, that revision is good.

Right up there with killing your darlings (I scream louder than they do), I believe in killing that first scene after the book is written, after you know what you were really writing, not just what you intended to write. After all, it's the first time those characters have breathed since their invention, and they tend to be a little asthmatic when they hit the light.

So if I start with a dud of a first line, I have no qualms about slicing it out later, no sense of regret that genius didn't shine on the work from day one. Heck, no, it didn't. There were days during the writing of the first draft when it felt like I was rearranging random words out of the dictionary and that perhaps my border collie could do it better.

The magic comes when that final scene is written, when I type "The End."

It's a lie, of course. It's not the end. It's the just the beginning. The first draft being finished means only that I know a little more about where the book should go, about who the characters might end up being. Now I can go back and revise the first line.

I'm in the second-draft of my novel-in-progress now, and my first line is "'Nothing ever happens here,' said Lucy." It's still not good, and it won't last to round three, but Lucy has a real voice now. She would never say "I need excitement." It's not in her quiet, careful nature, something I didn't know when I sat down for the first time at the blank page. So I'm getting closer. The first line eventually has to be perfect. It just doesn’t have to be perfect right now. Thank God.


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hmmm...I think both of those are good. Can't wait to read number three!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hmmm...I think both of those are good. Can't wait to read number 3!

Judy H. said...

Go Rachael! (In case you don't recognize me, I followed you here from Yarn-A-Go-Go.) I look forward to reading your writing posts, and to getting to know the other writers here.

Sophie Littlefield said...

OK here's a contribution from my brother though he doesn't mention the author's name - more of a guy's first line maybe:

here's that awesome first para I mentioned:

"The president of the United States, WIlliam Jefferson Lee IV, sat straight up in bed. It had been the nuclear nightmare wherein some unidentified country had launched missiles on the United States and he had to decide at whom to strike back. It was not the first time."


Joy said...

I presume that Lucy is going to be made to eat those words before the book is over no?

I was taught that using "he/she said" in an opening line is death to prose. It's static; no action. The idea being that you CAN have Lucy say thay, you just can't SAY that she said that - you have to simply state her words as she performs some action and the "she said" is implied. ie:

"Nothing ever happens here."
Pouting, Lucy turned away from the wide picture window, oblivious to the muskrats humping wildly in the juniper bushes just outside her room.

I mean I have no idea if Lucy is a pouter or if she's nearsighted enough to miss humping muskrats or even if she's on the ground floor, but hey, you get what comes into my mind. Just messing with yours ;-)

Writing is the most funnest thing evar. 'Cept when it's a total agony. This blog is a great idea!