Friday, 20 April 2012

First lines

One of the things we did at this week's creative writing workshop was talk about "first lines". You often hear the advice that your first line has to provide a "hook" to draw the reader in.

When I went looking through our bookshelves for some examples, I found some that were brilliant. The first line of Charlotte's web, for example - "Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast - packs both information and suspense into less than 20 words.

But a number of others didn't really stand out at all. And I never knew (until I looked) that two of the Narnia books - The lion, the witch and the wardrobe and Prince Caspian - start with almost identical words.

I think the need to find a good enough "hook" can paralyse you before you've even got going. Better to just dive in to the story and come back to it later. After all, you might find that your story doesn't even start where you thought it did.

But you have to start somewhere, and my creative writing students came up with some brilliant ideas. Here are a few of the first lines they came up with:

It was the 12th of August, the day we had been waiting for all year.

"STOP," I yelled.

So what if I did it again?

This was wrong, I knew it, but somehow I couldn't stop myself.

We always questioned our dad's work.

They were coming.

There are times for subtlety, and there are times for being thrown out of third storey windows.

The lights sparked, fizzled and died.

You don't know when it will happen.

I was pulled into this world the wrong way around, feet first, which is a pretty accurate metaphor for my life.

I could hear my heart beating fast as my mother's words rang in my ears, "Don't go out past 10!"

The man's cold eyes shone through the darkness.

And lastly...

The owls had begun their hooting, but we were already gone.

Great stuff!  Any one of those could be the start of a really good story.

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