Lindsey R. Loucks

Author of Romance and Other Scary Things

The First Line/Page – Bleep the Rules!

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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! 🙂

9 Comments

  1. Preach it, sister! My #1 rule is to listen to my critique partners. They can see things that I can’t. All other rules are for the birds.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! You’re right on the money…I couldn’t agree more. As writers I think we get so tangled up in the rules that we can hardly see our stories as they should be. Sometimes we’re so afraid of breaking them that we can’t even get started (been there). So here’s to the rule book…going out the window!

    Cheers!
    Maren

  3. No.1 rule – do what works.

    With that in mind the rest is easy…all you have to do is work out what works 🙂

  4. Yey for bleeping the rules! I got a prize for grossest first chapter and I’m very proud of it 😀 I’ve also started a first chapter with weather and dialogue.

    So, I agree that you should listen to your characters. I tried to beat them into place at some point, but they turned wimpy. Now I’ve left them roam free and they’re totally all over the place, but I’m sure they’d gang up on me and kick my butt if I tried to change anything.

  5. Mysti – Yes! Other than my MCs, I only listen to my trusted critique partners. 🙂

    Prima – Yay for throwing the rule book out the window! And welcome to my blog!

    Bot – I love your No. 1 rule!

    Stef – *gasp* Weather!? That’s another no-no I’ve read about. But wouldn’t that also be setting the scene? See what I mean about these silly contradictory rules?

  6. Great post, Lindsey.

    My books break all the rules. LOL. But they still get 5 Star reviews. Follow your instincts, that’s what I say! Go Lindsey!

  7. Nice post! I started my novel with my character looking in a mirror on purpose, so that every time I got angst-y about what I was doing I could remind myself that it was unpublishable anyway, so I might as well have fun.

    I admit, though: if a book starts with the weather, I stop reading immediately. I’m pretty sure that if a writer thinks the weather is the most important element of the first scene that we’re not compatible. But that’s personal taste, some people might be perfectly happy to read about the weather.

  8. I’ve read so many books that break the rules… so I take them as a guide only… but totally agree opening lines are important. Great post… and I agree with you… follow your instinct on what feels right for your book.

  9. Awesome, Trish!

    Wyndes – The number rule should be to have fun while writing! I’m not sure a story opening with weather would stop me from reading, but I would be wary.

    Tania – Yes! It’s important to follow your instinct!

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