I entered the Writer’s Digest opening sentence competition this month. You know what it taught me? The value of that first line.
It took me twelve attempts before I was happy with the line I’d written. The first was weak and vague. The later ones were clearer on intent, but didn’t pack a punch. Some felt heavy with possibility, but needed a follow up sentence to really make them comprehensible. Twelve attempts later and I felt I had a sentence that described exactly what story would follow, who the protagonist was and what was at stake. Not bad for an initial twenty-five words.
I tried to take into account some of the tips I learnt from a Writing Workshop with the Woman’s Weekly fiction team that was all about how you should begin your stories – which I wrote up here. It’s a good list, which I should refer back to more often. I’m betting that half of the stuff I currently write doesn’t fit these simple suggestions!
Out of curiosity, I re-visited the first line of my novel for NaNo #1. Here’s what it currently is:
“Mrs Tailor, what are you doing out of bed?”
While it leaves the reader with questions (who is Mrs Tailor, why is she out of bed – why should she be in bed – who is scalding her, etc.) It’s not exactly the most gripping beginning. Not to mention the issue of unattributed dialogue, which I already know I have a problem with (see my First Rejection post).
What the Writer’s Digest competition helped me realise is that just one sentence really counts. Not just for that opening line, but for every sentence in the novel. It’s a lesson I hope I remember in future: I’ll certainly spend more time on that first line when I start to write anything new.