Sloppy Firsts

Is the first cut really the deepest?

OK, so I stole the title from Megan McCafferty’s (amazing) Jessica Darling series.  Sue me.  She can’t really sue me, can she?  I hope not.

Anyway, Mary Kole over at Kidlit.com blogged today about first lines.  It struck me because I’ve done a lot of meditating on the topic.  During the semester I spent in Hamline University’s MFAC program, I wrote a critical piece about the importance of first lines, first pages, and first chapters in setting the stage for your book.  Whether readers realize it or not, a lot goes into crafting those first bits.  There is a precarious balance between grounding the reader and hooking the reader.

After I read Mary’s piece, I got to thinking about my current WIP and how effective the first line is.  The answer?  Not very.  It surprised me, considering that I’d put a lot of thought into the subject in general.  It wasn’t that the line could fit any other story, it just wasn’t a line that reflected what my story was really about.

I’ve also read a lot of writing advice that said to cut the first page.  First first pages (that’s not a typo, MS Word!) are notoriously clunky and full of unnecessary exposition.

So, I did what any sane person would do and I cut out the entire first page of my WIP without reading it over.  What was I left with?  I was left with a pretty good first line.  A first line that was, at the very least, superior to the one I’d tried to craft in the first place.

Now, I don’t intend to paste bits of my WIP here very often, but this situation sort of demands it.

Comparison time!

First first line:  “I could never really tell who the evil people were.”

or

Second first line:  “I never got the Bloodlust.”

Perhaps I’m just biased to my new (and improved!) first line, but I think the second one has so much more flair.  The first line, though sort of intriguing, doesn’t really tell anything about the main character or the tensions that will be inherent throughout the story.

Have any of you guys wrestled with first lines, first pages, or first chapters?

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