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Monday, March 24, 2008

It Was The Best of Lines, It Was The Worst of Lines: How Important is the First Line of Your Novel?

Photo Creative Commons by Photocapy

So how important is that first line of your book? Can it make or break your chance of getting an agent or editor's attention?

Several agents have been holding novel first-line contests that win writers a critique. As Martha says, that's a good thing. But the better question is can a great first line hurt? Me thinks not. So it's to your advantage to craft a first line that's at least not snooze-worthy.

But don't panic over it. Some agents say a great first line isn't critical. Having a just-good-enough opener isn't a novel killer when they're reading submissions. Miss Snark has some valuable advice on first lines. She says if it's horrid it will kill your chances, but an adequate one can keep her reading even if it's not show-stopping. Agent Rachelle Gardner says basically the same thing in her blog post.

So make sure your first line doesn't reek, at the very least, and check out these legendary first lines to see what makes for an unforgettable opening. (Although I think it may be a chicken and egg thing for some of them - people fell in love with the book and then decided they adored the first line- see #14 on the list, for example). For a selection of stinky first lines, see the Lyttle Lytton Contest winners for worst first line.
For my fellow Saturday Writers and Coffee and Critique members, don't forget Julie Earhart's workshop this Saturday on "First Sentence Expectations." It's a specific workshop on polishing that first sentence.
Query on.


Tricia Sanders said...

It was a dark and stormy night...

Oh, wait. That one is taken. Darn that Snoopy.

It was a light and breezy day...

zeldadg said...

LOL - Bring it to the workshop and we'll rewrite. "The sky was black and filled with turbulence."

I can't believe you're taking your lap top with you into the great beyond. What about your printer? The printer always gets left out.

Tricia Sanders said...

By then paper will be obsolete.

And if my printer doesn't stop eating paper and sucking the ink out of cartridges, it may meet its maker before I do.

P.S. That line could work... The sky was black and filled with turbluence and a cranky old witch swirling around on her broomstick.