The First Line

How important is the first line of your story? Will it keep readers on the page long enough to read the second? The third? Is it trite or cliche? Is it memorable?

There are only a few beginning lines that really stand out in my memory as making me want to keep reading. In fact, one of them got me to actually buy the book at a garage sale.

Death drove a green Lexus.

Isn’t that a fabulous opening line? I had to buy the book and find out why Death was driving a green Lexus. I mean, who wouldn’t? This one belongs to veteran author, Dean Koontz, in the book Winter Moon, I believe.

Another that I came across not too long ago is from The Harrowing, by Alexandra Sokoloff: It had been raining since possibly the beginning of time.

While not as stunning as Koontz’s line, it created an indelible impression in my mind of how one feels after endless days of rain. It made me want to read more.

You know right away that sarcastic humor will accompany you through Jim Butcher’s Small Favor with this line: Winter came early that year; it should have been a tip-off.

How do your first lines compare?

 

What is Your Story Built Upon?

Every story needs structure to be successful. Does your story have it?

Consider a house. To stand, it needs a basic structure. Those 2x4s support the walls, and the trusses support the roof. Your story is no different. It needs structure to stand up. Few stories can succeed when written in an offbeat sequence, just like few houses can stand if the underlying structure is weakened or compromised. Think of all the different housing styles you’ve seen, yet they all have the same underlying structure. Those 2x4s are still there.

Your story needs its structure to do the same thing. Most stories are based upon a four part structure. This structure has been implemented since man started storytelling. Before you complain that using a structure hinders your creativity, think of all those houses that look so different. Think of all the dogs on the planet; they all have the same bone structure, the same digestive systems, the same function, yet they can look as different as a Chihuahua does from a German Shepherd.

Likewise, readers expect a story to progress in a certain way. Let’s take a look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone. In the first part of the book, we are introduced to Harry, our hero. We find out about his circumstances, and we empathize with him. We see that he does have abilities that he isn’t familiar with, and we eagerly go along with him as he goes off to Hogwarts to begin his new life. Then Harry hits some complications. He makes enemies. He must fit in all his schoolwork along with Quidditch practice. He finds out about the stone. Next, he has to find a way to prevent Voldemort from getting the stone, while the stakes get higher. Finally, he confronts Quirrel and Voldemort, prevents them from getting the stone, and life returns to some semblance of normal again.

Along with Harry Potter, other bestsellers follow this basic structure. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Jim Butcher’s Changes, and Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer all follow the same basic structure. All of them sold well, and two have been made into movies. They wouldn’t have been half as successful if the authors decided to mess with the basic structure.

So, does your story have structure?

Every story needs structure. If you’re not sure about yours, your editor can help pinpoint it for you so you can plug up holes, rearrange portions if necessary, and make it strong. Please check out our services if you don’t already have an editor.