Writing Tip #38

Don’t fret over your first line. In Entertainment Weekly, write-ups of new books often include a blurb/sidebar called “First Line,” in which the first line of the novel, memoir or nonfiction book is quoted. And just yesterday, I read about this cool “paperback game” in the New York Times  in which players have fun with literary opening lines by trying to guess which is the correct opening line to a novel within a heap of totally made-up ones.

Although I do enjoy a good opening line and definitely plan on playing the paperback game with friends this summer, I think that there may be too much emphasis put on the first lines of books. As a journalist, hard news stories are all about the first line or lede, the who, what, where, when and why of your piece — the point being that if readers don’t have the time to read your entire article, they can get the gist of it only by reading the first paragraph or so. But when it comes to novels, people are in for the long haul. I agree that the first few pages should be engaging enough to hook the reader who might be standing in Barnes & Noble trying to decide if she is going to buy your or Snooki’s new book, but I don’t think anyone is going to make any rash purchase decision based simply on what may be a less-than-gripping first line.

Last fall, during the first revision process for Baby Grand, I remember staring at my computer, reading and rereading the first line and wondering, “Is this exciting enough? Would Entertainment Weekly consider this blurb-worthy?” The answer? Who cares. Entertainment Weekly also includes a blurb titled “Memorable Line” just as often as it does “First Line.” And my feeling is that if you’ve got enough of those, wherever they may be located in your manuscript, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Tip #38

  1. This post is of great aid to the writers’ community, Dina.

    So refreshing to read something that isn’t mandated by the folks who try to control what an author writes in hopes of making money from the writer’s effort–plus, the drones that repeat what the gatekeepers have said in hopes of gaining more internet traffic…

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