Joel’s Journal – June 23, 2016
In this post:
I’ve written a lot of stories over my fiction writing career, meaning I’ve written a lot of opening lines. The first line of a story is an interesting thing. I’ll tell you why. I’m also going to give you an update on how my Summer of Short Stories project is going and share some of my work so far.
It’s kind of ironic that in a post about opening lines, this opening line is far from exciting.
Oh well, had to start somewhere.
I want to talk about starting sentences, because for the last month, I’ve been absolutely fixated on them. Whatever I’m reading, whether it be a new novel, a news story, a magazine feature, the back of the cereal box, I’m constantly thinking, “why lead with this?”
It’s not worth the literary lesson to talk about opening lines in books because it’s just plain obvious. You lead with the words you think are going to draw people in, keep them reading, and so on and so on.
I agree, but I also don’t.
This is extremely important when it comes to a news story or a 2,000 word feature article. In my mind, the shorter the piece, the more pressure that is placed on that opening line. You have less space to tell your story and therefore, less leeway with your words and the reader’s attention span.
For a novel, I truly do not believe that a bad opening line can ruin the book. It’s just not possible.
I’ve never, and I repeat that, never, read the opening line of a book, blown air between my lips and tossed it. It’s just not realistic. That’s like not eating an entire entree because one vegetable is slightly burned, and you happened to eat the burnt part first. Shit, you’ve already eaten it, might as well try and enjoy the rest.
Now, if things are still stinking after about four chapters then I give you a free pass to close the book and donate it to Value Village. Your time is precious, cut your losses and move on.
If you’re me, when I find a bad book, I’ll give myself just enough pages to cement in my mind that I could write something better, then I toss it, knowing that if that book can get published, then perhaps I have a chance.
This spring I wrote two short stories, and with summer officially here I’m almost completed my third.
Here are my three opening lines:
“I think it’s time you went outdoors, mister.”
I have to admit, I was starting to feel a little bit ridiculous, a rare feeling in my world these days.
“You’re fucking ridiculous sometimes, you know that?”
As you can see, I’ve been addicted to the dialogue opening lately. I feel like it’s intriguing, and it makes the reader feel like they’re coming in in the middle of a conversation (which they are),and what do you feel the need to do when you come in when two friends are talking? Figure out what the heck is going on obviously.
In this situation, the only way to figure out what is going on is to keep reading. Perhaps a cheap strategy, but I think it’s effective.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. If you haven’t checked it out, I’ve updated my Non-fiction page with a few recently published articles, including my first magazine feature!