Tuesday, 13 April 2010

How do I start this?

It is the truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Did I get your attention? Good, then lets begin.

They say the opening is the most important. It's the one that has us staring at the blank page tearing our hair out.

Jaydee did a fab post about the terror of the blank page but what do you do after the blank page? You've wrote your MS, and now you are focused on getting that opening just right.

So how do you go from an so-so opening to a great one? You know the one I'm talking about right? The one that makes agents excited enough to read on. That makes them see the potential in you and request your full and then offer representation.

The opening that - once published - makes readers buy your book and set up those fan pages dedicated to great quotes.

Oh sorry, thats the dream talking. Now, back to reality.

His Dark Materials author Phillip Pullman was asked how he wrote great books. His reply was that it's easy; all you have to do is write a brilliant first page. And then a brilliant second page. And then a brilliant third page... And well, you get the idea.

If they're are any hard and fast rules then I'm still looking but I've found a link that may come in handy:

http://writing-novels.suite101.com/article.cfm/more_great_first_lines

So over to you. Do you have a favourite opening of a novel? How do you work on yours to make it great?

16 comments:

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Cane River, by Lalita Tademy is about a family of slaves in Louisiana in the mid-1800s and follows them through their journey to freedom. The opening line in one of my favorites of all-time:

On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madam Francoise Derbanne slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes.

I love that line because I immediately knew so much about little Suzette!

Great post :)

Angela said...

I'll have to give some thought to my favorite opening line in a novel, but I will say that with my own novel the first line opens directly into a scene of action, versus setting up the location of the scene. My objective was to grab interest immediately...leave the reader wanting to know from the first line "What happens next?".

Jaydee Morgan said...

This is a major trouble spot for me. I tend to start slow - no big, catastrophic event. I like to show a bit of my character first then set them down the road to destruction.

I'll be sure to check out that link - (and thanks for the mention!)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My favorite opening is from Generation Dead by Daniel Waters:

Phoebe and her friends held their breath as the dead girl in the plaid skirt walked past their table in the lunchroom.

Now if only I could write something like that.

My beginning changed because of a contest I entered. You submitted your first paragraph and the judges (published authors) critted it. One suggested that I moved the last sentence so that it was the first one. It worked. It was a great hook.

Mayowa said...

Hey great post.

This here is my favorite line. It's from Lolita.

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul."

Slamdunk said...

Informative post.

One of my first line favorite is the Great Gatsby:

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

Matthew Rush said...

Well there is always A Tale of Two Cities, but that's probably not really fair.

I've always liked:

All this happened, more or less. - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Great post, thanks for sharing Lindsay.

The QQQE

Shannon O'Donnell said...

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt - great story! As for mine, CP's are a Godsend. :-)

Elana Johnson said...

I love the beginning of the sixth Harry Potter book, where we get to be with Snape and they do that binding curse. That's brilliant.

For me, I just sit down and write it. My beginnings change a little, but rarely do I sit and stew over them. If I do, then I know I haven't started the story in the right place.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Wow, thanks everyone for comments.

Nicole. I love that opening. I'm going to have to read that book.

Stina. Argh, another book to add to my shelf. But what a cool opening. Love your comp.judges suggestion too about switching round the sentences.

Mayowa. I have to admit I never got all the way through Lolita (shame face being an english lit graduate). But your line and the post I read on your blog may just send me back to try again.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Matthew. Yeah, throwing Dickens in there isn't fair. But I'll let you off with Vonnegut :)

Shannon. Heehee I know what you mean about CP's :)

Slamdunk. Ooh The Great Gatsby, forgot about that one. Thanks for the reminder.

Jaydee. I'm so with you on the starting slow and then leading the character to destruction :)

Angela. Great comment. Getting the readers attention is - I think - the brilliance of a first line.

Elana. Good advice. I guess the story should flow from you naturally. Awesome pick for opening too - Harry potter:)

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm not sure what my favorite first line is--it's hard to choose.

The first line and first few pages are crucial. Sometimes I don't care if the book finally gets good. I'm still left with a bad impression, and I'm most likely not going to read the book a second time.

Lydia Kang said...

It took me somewhere around 7 or 8 tries before I got my first line down. But I'm happy with it now!

Creepy Query Girl said...

It's so funny. I didn't stumble onto your post until after I had written about my opening of 'Bones of the Matter'. It's like there's some kind of blogging collective consiousness going on here. Creepy. lol.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Hey, Lindsay! Great post. I tend to not agonize over beginnings; that's where I agree with Elana - if it's not coming, then I'm not starting the story in the right place. That said, my only rules for beginnings are to start busy and keep it busy. Not necessarily in the middle of some explosive scene, but just with some interesting action done by some interesting character.

Palindrome said...

I'm not at that's part yet in writing so I worry not til presented with the problem...at least, that's what I'm telling myself.

my favorite opening, off hand, would be The Thirteenth Tale. It's about books. :P