I’ve been on a fiction reading tear of late and, like Jim, excited by several manuscripts that have landed in my inbox since the beginning of the year. Because, as we’ve mentioned countless times in this blog, it’s relatively rare (percentage wise, that is) for us to fall in love with a novel to a degree that makes us want to represent it, I’ve been (again, like Jim) wondering why this sudden embarrassment of riches. I’ve actually been reviewing my “process” in order to try and figure out what about these novels grabbed me in the first place.
Then, I came upon this piece in the Huffington Post and remembered how insidiously effective a great first line is. Not all first lines are as pithy as “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” of course, but a well crafted opening in a novel immediately grabs you by the metaphorical lapels, drags you into a comfortable chair, and forces you to keep turning pages until, hopefully, you reach a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes it’s not until you reach that last page that you turn back to the beginning and see how everything was presaged and encapsulated in that first sentence (or two).
I know that I’m not communicating anything new here (we’ve even had a first lines contest on this blog) and that all of you avid readers have had the experience I describe above numerous times, but I think it’s necessary for all authors and those of us who work with authors to remind ourselves how crucial a novel’s opening salvo is. Once you nail that, I’m pretty sure the rest of the novel just writes itself. (Kidding…or am I?)
What are your favorite first lines? One of mine is “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”