Monday, August 22, 2016

Types of Beginnings: The First Line

You walk up to the center of the square. Thousands of people walk by everyday. You need to grab their attention from the first line.

What do you say?

Creative writers, academic writers, play-writes, journalists, all struggle with the beginning. The first sentence. The hook.

You hope to grab the reader from the beginning and hold them there, and make them want more.

But it's always hard. For my own novel, I have rewritten that first line so many times I've lost count. Nothing seemed right. I've looked up first lines and even gone back to my favorite books to see how the pros do it.

What then, do published first lines look like?

Here are the first lines from some of my favorite books:

"She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days."
"The Goose Girl" by Shannon Hale

In theaters, 2016 Sept 30.
"I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen."
"Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

"It was dark where she crouched but the little girl did as she'd been told."
"the Forgotten Garden" by Kate Morton

These I will categorize as the "And then what happened?" beginnings or the "WHY?" beginnings.

When I was little my parents used to get me to stay awake in the long car rides home by making me tell stories. I don't remember but they told me they always said "And then what happened?" to keep me going.

You see "she did not open her eyes for three days" so you ask "and then what happened?" or more appropriately "WHY?"

You see "...when extraordinary things began to happen" so you ask "and then what happened?"

You see "...but the little girl did as she'd been told" so you ask "WHY?"

Let's look at another bunch:

"Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen."
"His Dark Materials: Northern Lights" by Philip Pullman

"Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook."
"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

"It was little more than three miles from the Wall into the Old Kingdom, but that was enough."
"Sabriel" by Garth Nix

"A half-moon glowed on smooth granite boulders, turning them silver."
"Warriors: Into the Wild" by Erin Hunter

These I shall call the "Starting with Details" beginnings.

These beginnings start with some detail that get you thinking. Huh, that's interesting! And then you end up reading the whole first page. Which ultimately gets you super interested in the whole book and you end up buying it.

There are also:

"The Healer's name was Fords Deep Waters."
"The Host" by Stephenie Meyer

Ones like this that start with someone's name I'll call "Who's that?" beginnings. I wrote a story that started with "My name is Trixie, just Trixie and nothing else."

You would probably want to know more about the Healer because they have an unusual name.

There are also the "Someone's talking" beginnings. The ones that start with a conversation.
"Kayla! Stop that!" or "I knew you wouldn't." or "Hey, hi, can I have a moment?"

Last, but probably not least, are those that talk directly to the reader.
"Have you ever been hung upside down? Because that's the kind of pickle Jenna was in at three o'clock in the morning." I just made this one up but you know what I'm talking about :) Let's call these the "Hi there, reader!" beginnings.

So I have found five different types. There might be more. But which ones are the best beginnings? Well, that really depends on your story or what kind of tone you're going for for the first chapter. Try experimenting with several different types. Try all the beginnings and see which one works best.

You can always change it. Play around with it.

Let's sum up:

"And then what happened?" beginnings make readers ask questions of which they may only find the answer if they keep reading.

"Starting with Details" beginnings get them intrigued in the scene. If they are interested, they will keep reading.

"Who's that?" beginnings get the reader hooked. They want to know who this strange person is or what they are doing in the situation they are in.

"Someone's talking" beginnings can be good if they also have an "And then what happened?" beginning feel to them. Readers will want to know why this person said what they said.

"Hi there, reader!" beginnings can bring the reader into the story itself, which can make them read on because now they are thinking, hm, maybe I know someone like this MC or have been in a similar situation or know someone in this situation...

Finally, experiment with different first lines and see which one works for your story.

Happy Writing! :D

If you have never read the books I mentioned and are now intrigued, go and look them up, highly recommended :)

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