The opening line is by far the most important line of whatever it is you are writing. Paper, poem, or story, the opening line (or lines), are the most important words. It is your hook, thesis, opening eye-catcher. It is the first thing a reader sees when they open your book to see if it is something they want to read. A well-crafted opening line is like a magnificent bird, which swoops down and catches a reader in its talons, carries it up and down on the wings of whimsy through the story, and lets them down at a grand sweeping finish. Opening lines are some of the most memorable lines from books. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Mark Twain, A Tale of Two Cities. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And on one of my personal favorites, ‘I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.’ Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man. Reading that first line of The Thin Man, you know you’re in for a true, good, old fashioned, mystery. You cannot spend too much time on the opening of your writing. Sometimes, you might be halfway through your book before you come up with the perfect opening. But it is well worth the hard work and the wait.
Do you have a favorite first line from a book?
When I was a little girl, I went on a school trip to the Symphony. There, someone read a story about a special flute. It was then I decided I wanted to learn to play the flute. And I did learn to play. Eventually I realized that only though a story was I inspired to play flute, the written word meaning more to me than actually hearing the flute music, even though the music was special to me. I think about that every time I play. My flute is named Grimm, after the brothers Grimm, because when I play I like to think of stories that relate to the music. They are usually fairytales.
Whenever I write I like to listen to music. It is like a soundtrack. The music helps me to visualize what I am writing. Sometimes I will be stuck writing, and then a good song will come on. That can be the driving force to make my story move forward. Music and writing always go hand in hand for me. Do you have any special music you like to listen to while writing? Or special music and stories that you always put together? Right now, I’m listening to Enya and a CD of Renaissance music. Yeah, guess what kind of story I’m writing 😉
Post Script, here is a link to a website that has the flute story I was talking about http://www.davidmaslanka.com/wind-ensemble/alex-and-the-phantom-band/
“I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” ~ Jane Austen
Dear Jane, how right you are! I have lately been ridden with that insufferable ailment that always seems to strike writers at the worst of times: writer’s block. I had over the course of the past year gotten into the habit of putting aside for myself one hour everyday to write. Sometimes I felt guilty that I was taking this time for myself, instead of working on my classes, or household work, or other such things that needed to be done. Nevertheless, it was worth it, and I found that my writing time was necessary to keep me sane. But as March and April became busy, my hour dwindled and disappeared, until the only time I found to write was on Saturday mornings (another time I had set aside for writing), but by then I was too tired and just couldn’t think of anything!
Jane had it right, I have to write to be in a humor for writing. Even if I have a story idea, I can’t always find the motivation needed to write it down. As April’s busyness diminishes, I will force myself to sit down at my laptop everyday for at least an hour, without the internet, cell phone, or telly. That surely will be the cure for my writer’s block. I suppose for me, not setting aside time for writing is like going outside in the cold with wet hair. If I don’t do it, I won’t get sick (or writer’s block.) Do you have a time you set aside for yourself to write? Or perhaps a homeopathic remedy for writer’s block?
I read signs aloud and count random things. (Such as, there were two words in the last sentence that started with ‘R’. That is the kind of stuff I count.) To others, these may be more like pet peeves. I hate holes in my socks. Or other people socks. Or any socks. Anyway, to get to my point. We need them. Not just because it makes individuals, and us who we are and unique… just like everyone else.
We, as writers, need them, because our characters need them. How many times have you been reading a story and the character is just a character. There is nothing said about how they love to eat marshmallows with chocolate and cheerios, the fact that they just have to jog a different route during the summer because they hat the ice cream truck’s music, or the fact that they just hate pink painted toe nails. All the story said about them was their job. And maybe what they looked like, which most readers end up detesting anyway.
The characters need quirks! They must have pet peeves! Otherwise, they fail at being a likable protagonist, and at best just become a forgettable character in a story with a likeable plot. C’mon, give the reader something they will remember. For example, in Joanna Carl’s Chocolate Mysteries, the main character Lee McKinney gets tongue tangled when she gets nervous. Which can be pretty hysterical. Another example is… well, is… See? I can’t think of any others! Memorable characters need quirks and pet peeves that are relatable or, you know, memorable. What are your quirks, or quirks from characters in stories you’ve read that you remember?