Saturday, September 20, 2008

Finding a Perfect First Line

I’m sitting here trying to come up with a witty first line for my new novel, something that will immediately catapult me into the story, but all I can think of is Billy Crystal in Throw Mama From the Train. I remember watching him struggle for the perfect first line, the perfect word until I wanted to scream “Skip the first line! Start anywhere! Or at least dig out a thesaurus.” But that was before I started to write, and now I find myself doing the same thing.

Odd that first lines are so important, yet few set the mood or do anything else they’re supposed to. And fewer still are memorable. Probably the best known line is “It was a dark and stormy night,” but it’s also considered to be the worst first line in history. Why? It seems evocative to me, and though it’s supposed to be redundant, even city people should know that stormy nights are not always dark. Maybe that’s why I haven’t yet found a publisher. Maybe I just don’t get it.

How about this for a first line? First and last, actually. As the ax descended toward her head, the young mother struggled in vain to free her hands from the nylon rope. It might be a good hook, but if doesn’t tell us who she is, why someone killed her, or why we should care.

Axes don't have anything to do with the story I want to write. I’ve always wanted to write the story of a love that transcended time and physical bonds, told with sensitivity and great wisdom. Unfortunately, as one agent pointed out, I have a matter-of-fact writing style, little talent, and no wisdom. So all I can do is put words to the page one at a time, hope for the best, and thank heavens I can always rewrite later.

Now if I can only think of that first perfect line.

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