Category Archives: First Line

Writing a Book Together: An Opening Line Every Day of January and February

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.

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Filed under Ann Dee, Exercises, First Line, Uncategorized

Writing a Book Together: Before the Beginning

This year I thought it might be interesting to write a book from scratch with you. From start to finish. Together.

Can we do that? I think we should try.

At this point, I don’t have anything to work on. There are only thoughts. No real facts or characters or ideas. No first lines. No plot points. No anything. I’m starting off fresh with you.

But in this moment I have learned something. Just now. Here it is:

  1. Sometimes, in order to come up with an idea, I have to write. Sit down and write.

Maybe it’s practice or muscle memory or training, but I can feel I am already headed in the right direction. I’m thinking.

Here’s what I’m thinking–I have an editor who’s interested in a romance from me. Could that be the novel I work on?

I’ve wondered for a long time if I might write a sequel to The Chosen One. That wouldn’t be fun, but it would be possible.

I could try my hand at fantasy. Hahahahahah! Okay. We all know that isn’t possible!

Here’s how I will decide: At the beginning of a novel, when I know absolutely nothing about it, I sit at my computer and stare off into the distance. This is when I’m hoping a character will introduce herself to me with a first line. So that’s what I plan on doing today. I’ll open a blank page on the computer and sit there.

Staring off into space is work! Daydreaming is something you can put on your novel writing resume!

Later today, I’ll sit around awhile and see who asks to be let in. See what she has to say. Maybe this book, whatever it’s going to be called, will come to me a little differently. If so, I’ll let you know.

How do you find that seed that grows into a novel? Are you inspired by history? People? Emotions? A first line? Something that happened to you? Something someone said? A creature? A bad dream? A kiss?

Let’s meet again tomorrow and see what we’ve come up with. I know for sure we’ll all do this writing experiment differently. Whatever I do is right for me and that’s mostly what I’ll talk about. But I’ll also see what published people are saying about their books and their writing. I’ll try to learn more about this crazy part of writing I’m calling Before the Beginning.

 

 

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Filed under Character, First Line, Plot

Monday, Monday

Every time I start a new semester, I get behind. When you add behind to behind to behind what you get is me. Someone who can’t seem to catch up, no matter what.

Here is a writing exercise for you so you don’t get as far behind as me. You can take this experience of mine, find your own that is similar, and write an incident that can fit in your book.

My best friend’s shoes are in my closet. A pair of his jeans in a drawer. He’s been dead just over a year.

“Do you want me to take these?”I ask him. He’s in a hospital bed. He can’t speak. SO he nods. I gather the shoes, the pants. “I’ll take these until you’re better.”

And here’s this article from my dear friend Trent Reedy. what do you think?

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/how-to-write-100-000-words-per-day-every-day?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

 

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Filed under Exercises, First Line, Life, Uncategorized

Monday Challenge Hint(s)

Do you know where this book is headed? By now you should have an idea. If you’re stuck, write scenes. One scene an hour.

What have you learned about your main character?

Who has surprised you most in this writing process–as far as characters? People you’re working with? Living with?

We’re two weeks in. Have you written one hour each day? Do you miss the time if you don’t write? Are you thinking about your novel on off hours?

 

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Filed under Ann Dee, CLW, First Line, Kyra, Life, Plot, Writing Marathon, writing process

Sketchbook Summer (and Writing?)

Over on Facebook, my friend Matthew S Armstrong is challenging artists to draw every day for one month. All this month of July! Fill a sketchbook!

Yes!

My youngest is doing this. So far, so good. She shows me each evening.

This month of July I want to–again–write one first line of a new book everyday. Five minutes to do it. Great opening lines. If it takes less than five minutes, I can write line 2, 3, 4. But it can’t take longer. Five minutes to get something new on the page, daily.

Remember Richard Peck? You’re no better than your first line? That opening is a key. The entryway.

As I have done this first line on a new novel before (three minutes to write them then!), I’ve found I need a few moments to think. Think about what I might want this book to be, otherwise I can’t do it. Not for 30 days straight. I don’t often start an idea with a line of writing.

I read somewhere that the opening line of a book should have voice, a little bit of mystery and character in it. Can you do that with each start?

That opening is also a promise of what is to come. It’s exciting!

So join in. With Matthew or me or both of us.

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Filed under CLW, First Line, Life, Voice

Heartbreak at 36–When Life Doesn’t Go the Way You Hoped

(Are these titles bringing in more readers?)

(Can you believe we are at #36?)

Emotion grounds our reader in such a way that the reader should be changed at the end of the book. It is our duty, as writers, to allow the reader to feel. We do that by putting emotion on the page.

Once, many years ago, I asked a few amazing writers, how they put emotion on the page so that their books rang true-so they felt like real life. Jerry Spinelli said this:

“You need to experience that emotion yourself. You don’t have to be experiencing it as you’re actually writing, but you need to be able to tap the keg where the memory of it resides and, so far as you are able, relive it.”

Martine Leavitt gave me this advice: “Create a powerful story, and you will create powerful emotion. Novice writers sometimes try to spoonfeed their readers the emotion they want them to feel, but language has the great knack of diminishing emotion. Put an emotion into words and you will undoubtedly drain it of power. All you must do is write a great story, a story full of love, honor, pity, pride, compassion and sacrifice (Faulkner’s six), and your reader will feel every emotion you want her to feel.”

David Gifaldi answered the question this way:

“For me, emotion comes only when I have become close enough to the character
to feel what he/she feels at every turn in the story.”
#36
List important events in your story.
What do you feel as you write these parts?
How do you want your reader to feel?
How does your character feel?
Are you getting the emotion across?
How?
How can you de better?
Do you have Faulkner’s six in your story?
Do you know how your character feels at every turn?
Are you tapping into your memory keg?

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Filed under CLW, Exercises, First Line, Life, Plot, Voice, writing process

Sexy Sexy Sexy Review

I heard if you give your posts good titles, you get more views.

Woot!

We may go up to TEN readers!

#33

Are you doing your one first line per day?

I’ve found having a slight idea helps me know what to write. Getting better at just saying anything and then thinking where the book may head. But I like having an idea and writing to that.

How many first lines do you have?

How many are great?

How many will lead somewhere?

 

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Filed under CLW, First Line, Life, Plot, Revision, writing process