Quest for brilliant first lines and strong openings


Standing on the muse’s dune, I want to hook the best first line ever.

Don’t you long to say that about the first line you wrote to a short story or a poem?  If not you might want to say that about the best line you delivered to someone you had a crush on and wanted to impress.  I think first lines can be in danger of entering cliche territory if one tries too hard.

Yet, despite this danger, a thought provoking video viewed this morning has me looking at the first lines of my short stories, and memoirs with a hypercritical eye.

This week I’m going to search for these as if  questing for best friends when I was ten ( I imagined one next door who came to her window and called out goodnight to me every night as if she was my sister from the Waltons and was into reading Swallows and Amazons and Famous Five),  along with the usual writing tips of look out for ditching cliches and making sure to show not tell.

I have to be careful though, because having this goal for that brilliant one line, and being too hypercritical  about it, might cause a complete shut down in my writing.

Normally I like to write without censoring, and see where a story takes me.  I follow my fictional or non-fictional nose.   Then I begin to polish.  Free writing is liberating and stops a blocking of the creative flow.  It can be enlivened by paying attention to all the senses, or concentrating on one or two.

I have come to enjoy editing and polishing, especially when it’s not attached to read ink and marks, but attached to an improvement in telling a story.  Looming though is the desire to have work that will be worthy of publishers, editors and the all important reader.

Although the last year or so, particularly for 300- 500 word beats, I find beginning well is empowering for telling the rest of the story.  When I am in this state I write as if it’s a haiku  reading in one breath and suddenly 500 words are strung together just the way I want.  I wish I could do that in longer and longer beats.  Is it possible to write without always needing to redraft and polish, polish, polish.

I begin my quest by writing a 100 first liners and will then make a selection from them as story triggers to write other pieces.

What is your favourite first line ever?  How much attention do you pay to your openings?


(c) June Perkins


Published by June

Writer, photographer, lover of unity in diversity in thought and humanity - poet by nature, world citizen

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