To quote Magnum, PI: "Now, I know what you're thinking. And you'd be right! Only..."
One of the most common pieces of writing advice I've heard is this: You need a Killer First Line, one that will hook the reader, be he/she an editor, an agent, your best friend, a stranger in Barnes and Noble, or even your mom. A Killer First Line grabs the reader's attention and pulls them, helplessly into your story, ensuring that they will read the second line. A Killer First Line sets up the rest of your book. And there's always the hope that if you nail that Killer First Line, it's going to be gracing blog posts and articles about writing from here until the end of time.
Needless to say, there is a TON riding on your first line. So much so, that you can spend hours, days, sometimes even weeks tinkering with the line, loving the line, hating the line, re-writing the line again and again, getting caught like a fish on a... line (see what I did there? :) ). It's daunting, that Killer First Line. It can even be debilitating. Which is why I recommend that you completely ignore the Killer First Line.
"WHAT?!" You exclaim. "Ignore the first line and lose out on fame and fortune and retweets? Are you insane?"
No, I'm not (or at least this isn't proof of it). I'm not saying never address the Killer First Line. I'm saying ignore it for your first draft. Maybe even your second or your third draft. Leave it alone - write a place-holder line and then ignore the stupid thing. Write the book first. Then write the first line.
I know this sounds backwards, but I actually have some good reasons to suggest this: the first being, if you choke up on the first line, you'll never finish the book. Trust me, I've been there before. I concentrated so hard on one stupid sentence, a sentence I couldn't conquer, that I lost interest in the book and faith in myself and the story died on the vine. Tragic, I know, but I recovered.
But the more important reason is the second one: Until you've written the book, you don't really know what it's about.
Stories are funny things. You set up a scenario, you find your characters and your settings, you outline, and you begin. You think you have it all worked out until suddenly, magic happens, the story twists, and you find yourself in a place you never expected. Or, the story turns out somewhat like you'd originally imagined, but halfway through the story, you realized a deeper meaning to the story or the characters. This is the good stuff, these unexpected treasures. Second drafts were made to expound on them, take advantage of them, and pare away the dross of unneeded prose so that the shining gold of your discovery can be made visible. And once you find the gold, bam! There's your Killer First Line.
That's not to say that your Killer First Line is going to be any easier to write in draft three. Most likely, it'll be just a tricky. But at least then you'll know what story your actually setting up, the true story, the story that lay buried deep within your initial outline (or in your imagination, if your pantser).
The moral of this story? Killer First Lines are amazing, but they aren't actually the first thing. Your story is. Without the story, without the book itself, the Killer First Line is really just a line, a throw-away that means little without the bigger story to back it. So write your story first and the Killer First Line will follow. It's practically a guarantee.
Agree? Disagree? Have a better idea? Comment below and let me know what you think!
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