So what’s happened since last week? Have you gotten a first line? Found a way to start this new adventure? Has anyone stepped out of the dark, taken your hand and led you toward a novel that feels to have lots of promise?
I have an exercise I’ve shared here about opening lines. It’s one I do every few months. For thirty days, every day, I write a first line to a new novel. Every time I start I think, “This time it will be easy.” And every time I find out an opening line is hard.
Why? The more days I play with openings, the harder they become. I realize I need to think more about characters–where they are in their lives, their situations, who they are. I worry over what would be the best line for that person I’m writing this book about.
These are not throw-away words. They need to mean something to me.
At the beginning of last year I played this game with myself and came up with more than a month’s worth of first lines, including this one: “When Momma finally died, me and my sisters weren’t surprised.” This line came several days into the exercise, but as I kept writing , day after day, it called to me. I listened.
Last November or so I finished the book about three sisters who lose their mother on page two of the novel. It’s now on submission. Here’s a bit of the synopsis:
“Momma is dying and Mister Paisley wants the land Iris, Ella, and Rory have grown up on.
It’s 1960-something and death isn’t the only thing complicating life for the Flynn girls. Daddy is gone and has been since before Rory’s birth. There are unwanted evening guests who creep around the house, angels who tap at the windows, and the meadow is dangerous to all, including the girls, after dark.”
Here’s a first line Ann Dee came up with when we were teaching a workshop class together:
“My dad ate an airplane one bite at a time.” We’re almost done with the novel. Don’t ask us what we’re doing. We have no idea.
Here’s what I do know about first lines–they have to have enough promise, intrigue, worry, feeling and wonder that you, the writer, can keep going.
So let’s do this together. For the rest of January and all of February come up with a line for a new novel every single day. I write my lines in pencil on a large blank calendar. For me, it’s an easy way to see my progress. HINT: I find I actually end up with more than one sentence. So write small if you choose to do the challenge this way. ANOTHER HINT: If you find you have an emotional connection to your line, this may be the book you want to follow.
PS My daughter just gave me my first line for my novel. It’s from her own life and she texted me this earlier: He wants me to dust the plants. All the plastic plants.
I think I now have a story.