Friday, February 6, 2009

Once Upon A Time...

"It was a dark and stormy night."

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

"If you really want to hear about it, you'll probably want to know where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like."

"Call me Ishmael."

What is it about famous opening lines that makes them, well, famous?  I heard somewhere that authors have about 8 seconds to grab a reader.  I read slowly, so that only gives authors a sentence or two to hook me.  That's it! 

So, here's my thing.  I am having the hardest time creating an opening for my new novel.  My first novel, Ring of Fire, poured out of me so easily and the first lines came to me the second the premise popped into my head.  That story is about 14-year-old "Bear", a tough inner city kid whose loving family and perfect life are shattered after a string of tragedies.  After his anger gets him arrested, he is sent to a mountain summer camp for disadvantaged youth, where he is challenged to stay out of trouble.  According to his probation terms, if he violates camp's Three Strikes policy, he will be removed from camp and sent to jail.  The opening lines read:

"A wad of slime slaps me in the neck as I step off the bus.  My heart pounds and my hands sweat as I prepare to stomp the fool who spit on me, but it's impossible to tell who did it in this mess of sweaty kids, so I let it go."

I felt like opening this YA book with action was appropriate since it is in part an adventure story.  But, more importantly, I wanted to immediately show that Bear is a kid who has been "spat upon" repeatedly by bad luck that was beyond his control.  Internally, he reacts to being spit on, but he has never been the type of kid who fights back.  Eventually, though, that misdirected anger will come out and ultimately become a major theme in the book. 

So, back to my problem.  My new novel, Fall, is a contemporary YA romance that could be described as "Love Story" meets "Yes Man" meets "A Beautiful Mind."  Can you picture it?  Okay, good.  I've started and restarted this novel 100 different ways, and I'm still not satisfied.  Do I start with action?  A quote?  Dialogue?  A metaphorical description?  The story is somewhat moody and philosophical, yet also funny at times.  But deep down, it's a simple love story about two people who cannot live without one another.  Should the opening lines suggest that it's a love story?  Or focus on the character and her problem?

Oh, and I am submitting the beginning chapters to the Big Sur March workshop.  And they are due this WEDNESDAY.  Gulp.  Help!

Thanks for reading.  And thank you in advance for any advice you can offer me!  



  1. Eve,
    Rita and I just led a schmooze on the very topic of first lines, check it my summary of it here!

    also, rita on her blog wrote more about this, and she included the awesome alternate first lines to charlotte's web - how cool to know even that was a struggle to get the perfect opening!

    I hope this is helpful and inspires a kick-ass opening for your book!

    Namaste and a HUG,

  2. Thanks Lee! Cannot believe I missed that meeting! You are the BEST.


  3. Hey! Glad to hear you're getting back to "Fall." I also like how you always give yourself these INSANE deadlines. Nothing like a little pressure, right? Good luck and feel free to send pages whenever you want.


  4. Hey Eve!

    Welcome back! I missed you.

    How's the intro. coming?

    I linked my blog to you-- my first time!

    Check out

  5. This is super hard to do without reading any of it, but this might be a case where your MC reacting to something that reflects her emotional state at the time might be in order. I always find reactions to be very telling. Plus, if this is the story I think it is, your MC's journey is all one big reaction to a certain diagnosis, so maybe a little nested min-reaction could echo that bigger theme nicely.

    Or, you know, maybe not. :)

    Cheers! Christy

  6. Ha! I was riveted by your post (thanks for sharing the opening to your first novel!!! I loved hearing your writerly reasoning!!), and then I find that Lee has partly commented for me! :) We also did a meeting the next month that was relevant, on Character (links here, here, and here).

    I can't really advise on your book, but I had a similar dilemma in mine. The way I got out of mine was to ask myself over and over what was the most important, indelible first impression I wanted readers to take away about the character, and then (because that didn't solve it all the way), I also pictured how an illustrator would depict the character, based on the different intros I was considering. THAT helped me decide.

    But, that's assuming you start with character. (Character talking, thinking, doing, quoting?)

    I think beginnings are the hardest part to write. I personally can't write them until last.

    :) :) Good luck! Maybe you've solved it already!!