Thursday, February 05, 2009

First lines and whatnot

Justine and Diana love to make fun of me because I have this need to know the first line of a WIP before I can actually start working on it. I tried really really hard with my latest book (Book 2) NOT to need to know the first line. I started multiple drafts with the notion that I could just go back and change the first line if necessary.

And then, oddly, on the way home from a trip JP and I stopped at a gas station, a first line popped into my head and I used his blackberry to email it to myself. Those of you who've been around here for a while might remember that something similar happened to me with the first line for The Forest of Hands and Teeth -- I was walking home from work one night when the first line came to me and I used my blackberry to email it to myself.  (Seriously, I feel like I should be on a commercial for blackberry!  Thankfully I have an iPhone now so any future first line emergencies can be dealt with pronto!)

Anyway, I like to think that I don't *need* to know the first line to a book before I start writing.  But recently I've had to face facts and at least now I've figured out why knowing the first line is so important.

The first line is everything.  Everything.

It's the entry into the book.  It sets the tone, it sets the time and it sets the place.  It sets the character, it sets the POV and the tense.  It defines the book.  And of course you can go back and change it later, but for me the entire story changes depending on when, where and how it starts.  Trust me, the book I ended up writing for Book 2 is VERY different from what I'd been writing before with a different first line.  And honestly, once I had the right first line, it all clicked into place where it hadn't clicked before.

So that's where I find myself now. -- casting about for the right first line.  It can be quite maddening, really, because the need to write builds and builds inside me and I can't do anything about it until I have that line.  Yes I know, I know, why don't I just throw something down on paper and get started -- there are always revisions?  But I think part of the way it works for me is like an egg timer or something.  The "ding" is when I get the first line.  Maybe before that point I don't have it all sorted out in my head, maybe the idea needs more time to coalesce.

All I know is that right now I want to try writing this story, but I don't know where it starts.  Oddly, I know many of the plot points (which I rarely know before starting a book), but not the beginning.  It's quite frustrating!


Okie said...

I both relate and don't. For me, I love having a good entry point and sometimes deliberate a bit...but really, my best tactic is just to jump in with both feet and let the writing go go go. The words take on a life of their own the more I get going. Once I really get on a roll and the story starts to take shape, then I'll turn back and often come up with a much better opening than if I'd stared blankly at it for a while.

The one place this is absolutely not true is when (as I'll be doing this weekend) I have to write an essay or other formal paper. In those cases, it really takes a good opening to get me on a roll. I usually change the opening once I read the final paper, but without a good opening, I can't get my thoughts organized to even dive in.

beth said...

While I have had some of those amazing Aha! moments where a first line developed, to be honest...

...every single first line I ever wrote (with one significant exception) changed. Rewrites killed them.

Jill Wheeler said...

Hmm. I think I need a new first line.

Samantha Elliott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samantha Elliott said...

I know what you mean about the first line, even if I don't need -the- line to start. What happened with the book I'm currently shopping was that I started it and then realized that the actual first line was a page in. So I cut the first page.

The original first line set a much different tone than the One.

In case you were wondering:

v1: I like to think of myself as an original.

v2: When I returned to Anjidia, I was naked (save for the towel that was vainly trying to shield me from the biting wind), standing in ankle deep mud, and being drizzled on.

Patrick said...

I find that the first line and last line of each scene/chapter are hugely important. I've even gone through books only reading those two lines of each chapter.

They are hooks. There is a trick/skill to them.

Carrie said...

Good point Okie -- what's interesting is that I realized how important the first line is to me when I was writing promo material for FHT -- interesting that you compare it to writing formal papers because I totally agree (and I used to do the same -- go back and change it once I finished the paper).

Beth -- I'll be curious to see if I get to keep my first line from Book 2 - we're still in revisions!

Samantha - you're totally right, those create completely different tones! The second one is really evocative!

Patrick -- I remember when Erica posted her first and last lines. I thought about doing the same but a lot of mine are spoilers!

Good luck with the line hunting Jill!!

Erica Ridley said...

I've definitely been known to email myself stuff via cb (or use the Notes app to actually type stuff in if I'm reeeally desperate). Viva technology!