Thursday, November 17, 2011

The First Line Blues

Despite our fears, the possibilities of a blank page are endless.
Photo by nuttakit.

The fear of the dreaded first line can paralyze me for hours.  It seems like every source on writing warns you that the first line of whatever you write is the most critical and will make or break whatever you have written, whether its your fiction magnum opus or a quick bit of advertising.  Screw up that first line, you are warned, and you've completely lost your reader and (it is implied) probably your career, your home and your first born.  With that kind of pressure, no wonder it can sometimes be tough to get going in the morning!

Plus, think of all those amazing opening lines you are probably competing with:

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."  Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

"It was a pleasure to burn."  Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."  The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

"The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."  The Gunslinger, Stephen King

These are a few of my personal favorite opening lines from novels.  Despite the difference in genres, they all have something in common -- they really make you want to read the next line.  Who deserves to be called Eustace Clarence Scrubb?  What are we burning and why is it so enjoyable?  What in the world is a hobbit?  Why is the man in black fleeing -- and who is he?

So when I first face that blank Word document (or Blogger New Post screen), I sometimes falter.  What do I want you to do?  I want you to understand what I'm saying, stick around for the entire post, hopefully want to hear more from me.  If I'm writing for a client, I want the reader to be interested in the client, look around the website and, ultimately, buy something.

The English language can be an overwhelming tool to use.  But the next great opening line is just waiting to be written.

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