First things first

The first week of our contest submission period is officially over. Don’t worry, though, there are still 12 weeks left to polish up your prose! If you are mostly finished with your manuscript, you might be wondering what you can do to improve it. If you’re just starting—I admire your ambition. Either way, a good place to start is at the beginning.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that first lines are hard to write. If you’re lucky, the first line will come to you in a burst of inspiration. If not, you’ll spend hours of your time wracking your brain and working through constant revisions to find the perfect combination of words. Stephen King admits to spending months and even years coming up with his opening lines.

Clearly you want your first line to intrigue the reader enough to get them to buy the book…and keep reading once they’ve started. Here are a few tricks I’ve found useful in my own writing.

  • Just start. Don’t stress about word choice or sentence structure, just start telling your story as if you were talking to a friend. You can go back later and tweak your prose, but it may turn out that simple and straightforward is better anyway.
  • If an opening just won’t come to you, wait until you’ve finished writing everything else before writing the first line. Inspiration could very well strike while writing.

Sometimes I  wonder if more heartache is spent on first lines than they deserve. Some of my favorite books have unassuming first lines—Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre starts, “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” No fluff, no fuss, she just starts right into the story.

Alice as she appears in John Tenniel's original illustrations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice as she appears in John Tenniel’s original illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

To finish up, I thought I’d share one of my favorite first lines. If you feel inspired, share yours in the comments!

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

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