This is a post by Novel Publicity Marketing Director, Pavarti K Tyler
You’re writing your great piece, the novel you believe in. You have your story in mind, your premise, and you’ve even done a little creative outlining. If you’re a pantser maybe you’ve been dreaming about the world you’re writing in and have done some character creation work. No matter how you go about your prep work, it’s finally time to dive in. Decide on your POV (first, third close, or third omniscient) and your tense (present, past, future participle—it could happen!) Now you need to write that hook, that one line, that one word that will grab your reader and make or break your story.
We’ve all heard it: The first line is essential. If you don’t get it right, you’re done for. Terrifying. It can stymie the most creative mind. Just think of some of the greats:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
~ One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez.
Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.
~ Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
~ A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.
I was about thirteen when I started letting the boys feel me up.
~ Pure, by Rebbecca Ray
How did they do it? How did they know that the opening line they placed on the page where going to make history? And really, in the end, did the opening line make the difference in the success of the book?
I’m going to tell you a secret. There’s no such thing as the perfect first line. What’s going to make your first line is the same thing that will make your first chapter and your first novel. You need two things, and you need to hit them hard from the beginning. If you do that, the rest will come together for you.
All you need is the letter “C”. You need your Chapters to be full of Character and Conflict.
Well, duh, Pav.
I know, it seems obvious, but it’s so easy to forget while you’re lost in the moment of writing. It’s so easy to pontificate on the relationship some third cousin of the protagonist has with their estranged child. Surely, that’s relevant to the story! You’re world building! But ask yourself, does it give insight into the main characters or help build conflict? If not, consider cutting it.
Recently while working on my current WIP, I realized that not only was my first chapter slow, it didn’t give insight into my character or create conflict. Well darn! And I really liked that chapter! But as I’ve gotten into the revision and fleshing out process, it hit the cutting floor, freeing me up to deliver what will ultimately be a much more powerful beginning to the story. Now the first chapter delivers character development, which will ultimately make the conflict more personal and relatable to the reader.
So go back, read your first line, your first paragraph, and your first chapter and see if you are creating character and conflict. If not, take another stab at it. I bet you can do better!
About this post’s author:
Pavarti K Tyler is an artist, wife, mother and number cruncher. She graduated Smith College in 1999 with a degree in theatre. After graduation, she moved to New York, where she worked as a dramaturge, assistant director and production manager on productions both on and off Broadway. Later, Pavarti went to work in the finance industry as a freelance accountant for several international law firms. She now operates her own accounting firm in the Washington DC area, where she lives with her husband, two daughters and two terrible dogs. When not preparing taxes, she is busy working as the director of marketing at Novel Publicity and penning her next novel. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.