The Opening Line

To me, as a reader, the very best part of opening a new book is reading that first line. It sets the tone for me, tells me what to expect from this book. Is it heavily descriptive, setting-based? Is it some kind of punchy bit of dialogue? Is it a short, *bam* kind of sentence that sucks you right in? And the books I love the most… I can recite their opening lines from memory.

He nearly called you again last night. Can you imagine that, after all this time? He can.

It’s been a few years since I’ve done a reread of one of my favorites, Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman, but those few lines that kick off the whole topsy turvy book are glued to the inside of my brain. The use of “you” in it, the familiarity of it… It is one of my favorite book intros of all time.

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.

Talk about a *bam* kind of line. I was instantly yanked into The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, wanting to know why someone was going to die, why it always happened on the first of November, how it would come about. There was no chance of me reading that line and then putting the book aside.

I’ve been locked up for 264 days.

I just read Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi this past weekend, in two sittings. Maybe not read so much as devoured. I wasn’t sure anyone could ever top what Maggie Stiefvater’s writing does to me, the amazement I derive from her turns of phrases and metaphors, but Tahereh Mafi has been giving her a run for her money. And that first line, just like Maggie’s, pulled me right on in.

And so I placed a lot of weight on the opening lines of ATWSOS. I have several possible intros sitting in a Google Doc somewhere, which I should just delete because they’re all awful. Part of the reason I struggled is because I wasn’t sure where to begin my story at first. It was originally going to start way back in time, with a wizard and a curse, but I realized quickly that this story is Reeve’s, and as such, the opening lines had to be hers:

I wake up in the same place I always do, the same sense of dread in my stomach. 

It stayed that for a long time, and in many ways, I still consider it the start of the story. But it’s not the first thing you’ll see when you open my book. Because I am a person who loves a prologue.

There are mixed feelings about prologues within the publishing industry and amongst readers. I’ve heard of some people skipping right over them, which frankly appalls me, because personally… I adore them – if they’re used correctly. And as my prologue evolved through revisions, I discovered that mine was not being used correctly. It was really freaking long, as well as essential to the plot. If anyone was to skip it, they would be extremely confused. And so my prologue became Chapter 1, and my opening line became the first line of Chapter 1, not the first of the book. The very first sentence became and remains:

There is a distinction to the sound of skin torn from bone.

And I love it. It sets the tone I needed set, an eerie sort of vibe, preparing the reader for what’s about to come. Because skin gets torn from bone a lot in this book, you guys. A truly unfortunate amount, for the residents of my fictional world.

All of this is to say… I finally came up with the opening line of my next novel. After a few failed attempts that sat uncomfortably in my brain, and then even more uncomfortably on paper, it came to me in my car, in the silence, my speakers broken and my brain free to wander every which way. It was truly a eureka moment. I was feeling really stalled, because of the importance I place on that first line, but this line came to me, and swam pleasantly around in my head for the rest of the drive, and when I typed it out that first time… It felt right. It felt necessary. It felt like what I want the whole book to feel like.

And so I have finally, officially, begun my next project.

“The real art is not to come up with extraordinary clever words but to make ordinary simple words do extraordinary things. To use the language that we all use and to make amazing things occur.” – Graham Swift

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