First Lines

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What is fiction? It’s a variety of subject matter, themes, and techniques and could become so broad as human experience itself.

Is the nature of your fiction dramatic, concrete and specific, generally representative, instructs and entertains, related to life, or creative and imaginative? With any approach to writing a novel, there must be a first line out there for you to create.

How important is the first line of a novel? Is it more important than the first page? The first chapter? What about the rest of the novel? Is the ending important? Character arch? There is so much more to consider. I can understand that a first line is what a reader finds after the title and becomes the first thing… the first impression.

The blind date analogy: what is she wearing, hair style, and makeup. Do I always notice these things? Not specifically. Is this the real person? Is she styled like this all day and every day? Or is this a special occasion. Some people don’t date often and this is special. Is the first line like some sort of veil of decoration? Are you hiding your flaws and putting your best foot forward? What about the rest of the novel? Once you get to know someone, hair and makeup become trivial.

One sentence can certainly display point of view and tense. It can show tone, style, theme and subject matter. You really can’t do too much with just the one line. Introducing character, plot and setting might be too much to ask. I think that’s why the work of art is called a novel.

The most important single line should be located within the text where it has impact on story, plot and character. My theory is that all lines are important. The first is just that: first.

If this first impression is important to you, then your first line is probably rewritten 38 different times with 12 different meanings. Could you leave your first first line in place? Sure, but by the time you complete the novel and you know what it is about and what it says, the first line can then be crafted to fit. A lot of writers “by the seat of their pants” and without a strict outline… might have no idea where they are going. They start writing. What does the first line mean on Day #1 and then what does it mean months or years later when the novel is complete?

This is a subjective topic and I hate to generalize, but do your best and don’t worry about it too much. Just write. That seems to be the hardest part of creating a novel. You’re not a writer if you don’t write, so write that first line and move on to the second line and on and on.

My final question is: Do you write your first line to hook your reader? Or, do you write your first line to impress an agent? I vote for the reader. The agent gets a query, synopsis and may never see your first line.

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