Narrative - First Lines

 Photo by gg.
 
Bill O'Connor, a friend of YWP and a wonderful novelist and columnist, used to write in a daily newspaper about everyday people with unique, funny perspectives and stories. Bills skills were these:
  • He connected with his subjects and so drew from them great detail and open expression.
  • He chose his details well and sparingly
  • He used dialogue well
And he had great first sentences.

"Writing is easy," he'd say. "You just write one sentence at a time, with the second sentence relating to the first, the third with the second, and so forth until you're done." He'd then smile and admit, "But getting that first sentence, that's the hard part."

To Bill, the first sentence set the direction of his story, of his writing exploration. And a good first sentence, or paragraph, does any or all of the following:
  • Sets the tone of the story.
  • Sets the voice of the main character.
  • Sets the scene.
  • Introduces the main character.
  • Creates the conflict or a question the reader wants answered.
So within storytelling and narrative writing there are a few techniques you can use to improve your writing:
  • Make sure you've defined the essence of the story before you start writing; in fact, write a definition of your story in 15 words or less.
  • Know the characters -- their wants and needs and the obstacles they face (that's the drama of your story, the opposing forces that bring tension and action).
  • Know the framework or structure of your story.
  • If it's a short story, try to make it all the way through; resist going back and back and back to the top, to the intro; make it all the way through; fix the rest later.
  • Edit and revise.
  • Make your opening line pop; that's what's going to bring your reader in.
Sometimes it's fun just to wing it, for sure, and an exercise I always like doing is just snatching a first line or creating a new one that is intended to be mysterious and dramatic and alluring. And THEN write the story from their, like Bill says, one sentence at a time, the current sentence relating to the previous.

And if you're in need of some inspiration: Here are some amazing first lines from famous writers.

And here's this resource shaped as a challenge, if you want to see how some others have done it.