One of my writer friends introduced me to an interesting blog post idea this week. She calls it WIP Wednesdays (Work In Progress). In the post, she shares 5 lines of her current project and encourages her followers to do the same. I participated in her post and added a few lines from my current project. Click here to check out her post. This exercise got me thinking about epic lines and, in particular, the first few lines of a story.
They say that you have to hook a reader within the first few paragraphs or pages of a story. From the first lines of Moby Dick whose words, “Call me Ishmael,” echo throughout time in literature, to Pride and Prejudice‘s opening statement “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” it is clear to see that hooking a reader from the start has mattered for a long time. The epic beginning of the Harry Potter series begins thus: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Here’s a great article from American Book Review about this particular subject and they picked some of the same examples I did. Here’s another list from The Telegraph.
I know for a fact that this works because every time I consider purchasing a book, I go way beyond the back jacket copy and I crack it open and read the first scene. The thing that usually gets me is beautiful language. If the story and the language intrigue me, I’m all in no matter whether the book is 200 or 600 pages long. No one taught me this. I think it’s just instinct. Other readers may or may not work the same way.
Language has always been number one in my writing, even before character and plot. This is probably not a good thing for a writer to stake claim of, but it’s the truth. Plus, because of my way of shopping for books, I always do extra edits and drafts of my first scenes. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the story doesn’t get pinpoint attention, because it certainly does. But I take extra time to craft the first thing the reader sees.
Here are the first few paragraphs from current projects of mine:
“The Green Lady” (A historical literary fiction work with a little mystery and murder mixed in)
Luck was a fickle beast, such as any woman was oft reputed to be. At one moment she could shower her adoration upon an unsuspecting benefactor and his or her life would be filled with riches. The world becoming a confectioner’s shop of whatever laid in their dreams, all of it waiting to be plucked by a golden hand. In the next, she could turn her painted cheek, her eyes blind and her heart steeled against a poor fool. Everything he touched would rot and the doors, which, once, had swung open before him, would slam full-force in his face.
John Remington Edgar felt as if he had borne the brunt of Luck’s other cheek for much of his life and the card game before him was just another example of the hearts of the Fates and Luck and all the other entities of mythology’s bias against him.
He could never discern what foul deed of his had led to the scorn he endured in the form of the ill-fated. Perhaps it was a misdeed committed in some previous lifetime, one so horrific that he was meant to bear the repercussions of it for all eternity. Not that he believed in other lifetimes. But often, he wondered what existed beyond the realm of what one could see or know and regardless, he had little else to explain the sinkhole that was his life.
“Withered World” (A Dystopian-Fantasy story)
It had been so long since Ryan had felt the rain that the sensation of it peppering his skin escaped him. He could not remember the earthy scent of the land as it was cleansed by the clouds; nor could he recall the blurry sight of a storm unleashed upon the landscape. His ears did not ring with the residual memory of the epic claps of thunder that shook the small mud brick houses of West FARM.
Even though the rain was far too acidic for people, the FARMS and their dying crops cried out for that liquid life force that hadn’t come in weeks and showed no promise of arriving before it was too late.
The sky was steely blue and cloudless. Heat radiated off the ground in waves visible to the naked eye. Ryan could feel his father’s worries for the FARM deep in his gut. Liam’s fears left him with a feeling of dread because Ryan’s father always knew where things were going. He never lost hope that the rains would come, even in the hottest of droughts. But this time, even Ryan’s father seemed to have given up.
As he lay beneath the desiccated tree, the burnt grass poking him through his hemp woven shirt and pants, the CITY far from thought and reach, Ryan called to mind the cool pelting of the liquid drops and the feeling of them running down his body, cleansing his skin. He sniffed the acrid scent of the land as it was washed anew. His cloudy eyes were closed and his breathing was light as he dreamed of rain.
Above him, the skies opened, clouds materializing out of nowhere, and water poured out of the heavens. The meager crops that were all but lost turned their heads to the sky and rejoiced. As the raindrops tumbled to the dry earth and the plants supped eagerly, Ryan’s father, Liam, ran out to the field and cheered. He raised his hands to the sky and bellowed his joy to the universe. His voice echoed around the hills that surrounded West FARM and sheltered it from the desert of No Man’s Land beyond their borders.
What projects are you currently engaged in? Are there any books out there that you picked up based on the first few lines? Are there memorable first lines that have impacted you? Please share!