One of the toughest things in writing: a first line.
Because it matters that much.
It grabs the reader and keeps them engaged to read more.
Let me repeat: it matters that much.
And it doesn't matter if you're writing short fiction, a novel or a picture book.
In January, I won the 2Elizabeths Love & Romance Short Fiction Contest for my piece The Shoebox. I revised the first line at least a half dozen times until I got this:
"It was January 21st and no one
should die so young."
Ouch. It even hurt me and I knew where it was going.
Isn't that what we all want as a writer? To do that to a reader?
This past weekend I went to a SCBWI workshop and sat with children's book author Kelly Bennett for a critique. I thought I had a good opening for my manuscript. Here's what I had (with some changes for anonymity) :
“I have to go to work,” said Jane's mother. “Wendy, you’re in charge. Jane, you mind your sister.”
“Come give me some sugar,” said Jane's mother.
Jane's mother hugged her so tight she couldn’t take a proper breath.
Then she left.
Here's what Kelly said: This was an opening for a novel in picture book terms. Start in the action.
So I revised and came up with this:
It's Tuesday and Jane's mother turn to work at night. That left Wendy in charge.
"Jane! Time for your bath!"
Not quite yet.
"Jane, time for your bath!"
"No way, not happening."
"Jane, you mind me."
I think that's it. See the difference? You've just jumped right into the action. She was right, of course.
Children's Book Academy has a great list of opening lines.
So Here's a Trick
Go a third into your story and start there.
As a critique partner, that is what I suggest most often. I bracket the first few lines and write, "Your story starts here."
In all things, be fierce.
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