I’ve been reading a lot on the Internets lately about the importance of first lines and pages of your novel. If it doesn’t pluck reader’s/editor’s/agent’s eyeballs and hammer them into the pages (how’s that for an image?), they’ll stop reading.
Umm, I’ve never done that, and I’ve read some pretty boring first lines/pages. I give the story a chance beyond the first 250 words. Yes, I know I don’t read billions of stories a day like some editors and agents do. But I’m not looking for an excuse to stop, either.
Let’s examine the first line of my novel The Grave Winner: Dad, Darby, and I stood rooted in place long after Mom’s funeral. I don’t think it’s eyeball-plucking stuff, but I do think there’s emotion hidden away in those twelve words. One reader told me once that I should start with a zip-bang-pow (my words, not hers) kind of line, but I respectfully disagreed. Actually, my main character Leigh disagreed. She whispered in my ear, “I’m at my mom’s funeral. Do you really think I’m in a zip-bang-pow kind of mood? The story starts here. This is where you start the story.”
I told her to breathe, then I told her I agreed.
Let’s move on. The first paragraph reveals what Leigh sees, and tucked away inside those words are what she feels.
In the second paragraph, she sees something else that makes her wonder if she’s hallucinating. No, I won’t tell you what it is. ; ) Some people had a hard time with this, though. They wanted more of what Leigh was feeling. But did they really? I could have gone on for pages about Leigh’s memories of her mom, about how her life will be so much different now. But nothing would be happening. It would all be an information dump flashback. I’ve read that’s a no-no. So I weaved all of these memories in throughout the story.
Other “rules” I’ve read about first pages are:
1. Start the story with action.
2. Don’t start the story with action so the reader can get to know the character.
3. Don’t start the story with a line of dialog.
4. Set the scene first.
5. Don’t use too much description/internal thoughts.
6. Don’t start the story with your MC waking up/looking in the mirror/sitting.
7. Don’t start your story in a house, school, graveyard because it’s all been done before and it’s now cliche.
8. I’m sure there are hundreds more, but I’m out of caffeine.
Did you notice that some of these are contradictory? Can you think of books that break these rules? I sure can. I get that these aren’t technically “rules”, just guidelines to make your writing stronger. But you know what? Bleep the rules!
Writers need to write what’s in their hearts and heads. Writers need to listen to their MCs or risk being punched in the face. (Leigh has a wicked fist, and she isn’t afraid to use it.) Don’t worry so much about pleasing others and following the “rules”.
My mantra in high school was the title of that Biohazard song “F@&* the Rules”. It still is. Feel free to disagree with me.
P.S. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy December! 🙂