Writers Are No Better Than Their First Line
I attended the Nebo Reading Council Young Writer’s Conference yesterday and heard a wonderful piece of advice in a talk by author Carol Lynch Williams. She quoted author Richard Peck (Here Lies the Librarian): “Writers are no better than their first line.” To continue his thought, Carol said the first line of a novel should “grab the reader first, tell who the character is, and establish there is a problem.”
I decided to look over some first lines from a few of my favorite books and discovered this is indeed the case.
“Somehow I knew my time had come when Bambi Barnes tore her order book into little pieces, hurled it in the air like confetti, and got fired from the Rainbow Diner in Pensacola right in the middle of lunchtime rush.” - Hope was Here by Joan Bauer
“If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it.” - The Teachers Funeral by Richard Peck
“The bargain was quickly made between my mother and the witch.”.- Mira Mirror by Mette Harrison
“I wasn't even all the way home and I could hear it”. - A Mother to Embarrass Me by Carol Lynch Williams
“I grew up with my left hand tied behind my back.” - Choosing Up Sides by John H. Ritter.
So, I decided to look again at the current drafts of my own novels.
“Watch me, Leona. I’m Miss Tarantula, mysterious tight rope walker of Madagascar!”- Leona and Me, Helen Marie
“I was named after a movie star.” - Just Like Elizabeth Taylor
“Vickie and I had been waiting for this night for three weeks.” - A Note Worth Taking
"’A new world. Just saying the words brings a fire to my belly,’ Felipe Marco said, his fists resting on his hips.” - Tides Against the Sea
“Anita and I had made a plan on the phone: Think sophomore.” - an as yet unnamed novel in progress.
Maybe I’m more confident than I should be, but I think my opening lines follow both Carol and Richard’s advice. If my first lines can meet the test, then I guess there is hope for the rest of my novel. Now, if I can only find an editor or agent who agrees with me.