Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Opening lines

Reading the brilliant A.S. King's Glory O'Brien's History of the Future. It begins like this: "So we drank it--the two of us. Ellie drank it first and acted like it tasted good. I followed. And it wasn't half bad. / When we woke the next morning everything was different."

There's more on that first page, but those are the first lines we get. Later we find out they've somehow drunk petrified bat and can now see the future-- and a grim one it is. I'm not that far into the novel so I'll talk more about it in a later post, but I love that King gives us SO MUCH in these first few sentences. I don't know how much of this will be the truth later, but I know that I'm pondering.

Let's deconstruct:

  • She begins with the act of drinking…. something.
  • She uses the pronoun 'we' followed by 'the two of us' and so I think that partnership/friendship/relationship (I'm not sure yet here in paragraph one) is significant. 
  • She tells us that Ellie drank first and then 'acted like it tasted good' which probably tells me a lot about Ellie even before I really meet her on the page. 
  • And then she writes, "I followed." Which also tells me a lot about the narrator, whose name I don't yet know.
We writers talk and think a lot about openings. It's that first page that I often write and re-write many, many more times than anything else I revise. Because it's everything, really. It's a reader's gateway into the novel, into the characters, into relationships and conflicts and things to come.

So we want to get it just right. It's not just about drawing the reader into the story. It's about telling things without telling them fully, which is sometimes-- many times-- harder than it looks.

The opening line of my forthcoming FINDING PARIS (April 21, Balzer and Bray) reads, "My sister leans over me while I am trying to sleep."

This was not the original first line. Or the second draft first line. Or even the third. In fact, it wasn't even where the book began in its first iteration. But eventually, I knew where the book needed to begin and what it needed to begin with. 

More on that later.

For now, a question: What are some opening lines that have stuck with you/made you wonder? Lines that when you finished and went back to them, you realized what they were doing?

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