Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The First Line Is Everything.
I labor over the first line of my books. I edit those suckers until they are so shiny they blind me. The other day, I was in the shower, and I got an idea for the first line of my new book. I was so excited that I jumped out of the shower dripping wet and slipped my way through the bathroom to my bedroom where I scrambled to write down the line on paper, so I would not forget it. By the end of the day, I had re-written that line at least twenty times. After writing my first line, and thinking about what Pamuk had said in his interview, I started recalling books that had captured me with their first lines. I wondered what made me love those first lines, and I raced downstairs to pull some books off my shelf and look at their beginnings.
I can't share all the lines I love with you, but here are four first lines that made me unable to put the book down.
1. From Gai-Jin by James Clavell (passed away in 1994) - The panic-stricken girl was galloping full speed back towards the coast, half a mile ahead, along footpaths that led precariously through the rice swapms of paddy fields.
2. From Ransom by Julie Garwood - Bad things always happen during the night. http://www.juliegarwood.com/
3. From Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett - The small boys came early to the hanging. http://www.ken-follett.com/
4. From The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory - There was a scream, and then the loud roar of fire enveloping silken hangings, then a mounting crescendo of shouts of panic that spread and spread from one tent to another, running up guy ropes and bursting through muslin doors. http://www.philippagregory.com/
Each of these first lines had me at the end of the period. They made me want to read more, they had questions spinning in my mind, and they brought the book to life for me immediately. With all of this said, I think first lines are crucial to getting an agent, making a sale, and winning readers. I do not think all agents stop reading after the first line. I think some do. But if I were trying to get published, get an agent or just stay hot in this business, I would not be willing to take any chances on losing anyone. My first line is always going to get some gritty work from me.
What do you think about the importance of the first line of a book? Can you recall an unforgettable first line from a book you've read?
Happy Writing My Friends,
The Marchioness of Mayhem