We hear all the time how important first lines are in
hooking a reader’s attention. First lines must provoke curiosity, create
anticipation, and move seamlessly into the sentences that follow. That’s not
what I want to focus on today, but if you’re interested in the elements of good
first lines, check out the following posts:
Recently I found myself having trouble digging in to a short
story I’ve been trying to write. I have a premise, characters, conflict, and
even a rough idea for the plot. Sounds like I should be having no problem
writing the story, right? Wrong.
Then I realized the real reason. My opening
scene—particularly my opening line—wasn’t strong enough to hang the rest of the
In the drafting stage, I don’t care about hooking readers.
My only concern is getting to “the end”. And while I know what the shape of
this story should be, my starting point is very fuzzy. Hence my troubles.
Starting points are a fundamental aspect of the architecture
of a story. Everything that comes after the beginning cannot exist in the
reader’s mind without the context the start of the story creates. Similarly, as
a writer, each sentence I write affects the trajectory of the story. Where I
choose to begin can have huge ramifications on what follows.
Even though I’d say 90% of the time I rewrite my first
lines, I still need one—regardless of how imperfect—to help me write my story.
So what makes for a strong first line that facilitates the
writer’s drafting process?
It should give you an organizational framework that dictates
how you tell the story.
It should pose a question that you as a writer want to answer.
It must keep you writing.
Have you ever gotten stuck on your first line at the
drafting phase? How did it affect your process? And how did you get unstuck?