I don't know which way to go. Any advice?


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I spent last night working through my entire book collection reading the first line or paragraph of every novel on my shelves. Why? you must be wondering. I’ve read so many books throughout my life, yet, when it comes to writing my own I am completely flustered, panicked and overwhelmed. How do people do this? And well, too?

I am an organized person by nature and for me, free form writing is for blogs and notebooks, not novels. Alas, my own’s lack of structure is completely distressing. Particularly, this: Where do I start? Literally.  So I took to the shelves. What I found from this completely scientific and analytical process (ahem, cough) was that the most compelling openings are those that put you directly into the story or the protagonist or narrator’s psyche. Something my own does not do.

Take for example, Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred: “I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.”  Wow, if I hadn’t read this, I’d totally want to now.

Or Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. ” An entire story created in one line!

And in Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven something less dramatic, but no less compelling: “Women on their own run in Alice’s family. This dawns on her with the unkindness of a heart attack and she sits up in bed to get a closer look at her thoughts, which have collected above her in the dark.”

I am absolutely certain my own first line(s) will not be so masterful, but at least it’s clear where I’ve gone wrong, and that, my friends, is a start.


Written by ditheringmiss

January 13, 2010 at 9:00 am

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