I saw this blog post on Chuck Wendig’s blog, and I thought that it was a pretty good idea to bring to the forum. The idea? Show off your opening line of your next story and have people comment on it to make it better. Of course, if you’re not comfortable with that, then that’s okay.
However, if you offer your line for critique, you must critique in turn. I figure that if you quote the line you’re critiquing, that should make sure that everybody sees what is going on.
I shall start. This one is from the story I submitted to the RF (adult) anthology: Coryn stared at the wolf across from her, unblinking. When the wolf, who reeked of finery in dress and in scent, began to squirm, the sable mink had her answer. “No.”
Nice! Creates some tension, and makes me wonder what the previous question was. One of the two character’s clearly uncomfortable, while the other’s calm and collected. I can assume that the question was something the wolf wasn’t comfortable with. Only thing I’d do is avoid repeating ‘wolf’ in the first two sentences.
The light shimmers in the smoke, while I’m slowly sipping my beer. My ears are ringing slightly, and I’m flipping throught the notes I’ve taken during the show. This evening I’ve had to sit through three different bands of varying degrees of quality, none of which will probably make it past their first demo. But that’s fine, they’re only playing because they love music. I know that because they told me.
I feel like if you brought the third sentence up to the front, it would make for a much more compelling read. Actually, I really, really think that third sentence should be THE first sentence, because that is an extremely compelling read. Definitely go with that.
On further reflection: I think if you cut the first two sentences (and either reinsert them later or drop then entirely) and maybe that last sentence, it might make for a stronger opening. But then, I am often a fan of quick, snappy stuff.
I liked this notion and I’m surprised other people didn’t run with it, although to be fair I’m just getting around to it now myself, so.
Rather than cutting the first two sentences, I’d combine them and make the whole thing a bit shorter.
The light shimmers in the smoke while I'm slowly sipping my beer, flipping through the notes I've taken during the show. This evening I've had to sit through three different bands, none of which will probably make it past their first demo. But that's fine. They're only playing because they love music. I know that because they told me.
This puts the emphasis on the first sentence on the notes, giving us an immediate impression of what the main character does. In the second sentence, “none of which…” tells us enough that “of varying degrees of quality” doesn’t need to stick around.
To put my own neck out there a bit, here’s the first line (and entire first paragraph) of my novel’s first draft:
When you’re planning to spend the next twelve hours on a zero gravity junk hunt, lunchtime is not too early in the day for your first drink.
I really like this It sets up a feel for the genre in general, some of the humor that can be expected, and even what kind of character we might be dealing with. Interesting how a single line can say so much.
I’m still trying to improve on my own openers >.> Here’s the one from Boy and His Dog- I already know it could go for some trimming, so have at
It’s so easy to take the most precious things in life for granted: freedom, the right to choose, the safety and comfort of family, knowing who you are and what you’re capable of. These things are your place in the world. Even if your place is just a nine-to-five paper pusher whose highlight of the week is taking your kids to the park, it’s still your own little niche. I took it all for granted. By the time I realized how much I missed all of the small mundane things… especially the small things, it was all over. The worst part? Remembering without remembering. The memories feel so distant. How to explain it? I can recall remembering those events far more vividly than I do actually living them.
I’ll be honest, I much prefer the original line to the alternatives listed. While it’s nice seeing all the options, they make a lot of assumptions (the narrator has any reason at all to talk outloud, the narrator has an actual job title, the narrator is doing a job they do day in and day out, etc). That, and the ones starting with ‘I’ just don’t read as easily for me, but that might be personal preference. One thing I ~know~ is personal preference is that I much prefer the information about the drink coming at the end, mainly because reading it that way makes it a bit more humorous to me for some reason.
laugh Well, it’s more discussion, I think. I liked Bahumat’s suggestions stylistically taken on their own as first lines, but they have a dour tone that would be well-suited to a grizzled noir protagonist. So I guess the question is: does the (original) first line imply grizzled noir protagonist? Your (Munchkin’s) reading is more “correct,” in that Gail is a thirty-something woman who’d identify more with Jimmy Buffett songs than Philip Marlowe if she knew the cultural references.
(Also, the novel isn’t actually in first person, but that’s hard to tell from the first sentence. It’s third person present tense with an extremely tight POV; Gail’s thoughts are generally presented not as “Gail thinks X” but simply “X.”)
That’s part of the fun of working off of just one line; everyone gets to wade in without context, and just take the words as they are.
I know upon my read of the single line, my first thought was definitely “space noir”; we’re talking about long shifts in a low-class job and they’re drinking either on the job or before it, so it sounded gritty, noir, and generally like a pretty unhappy person. So I run with that.
The further I went, the further I took the steps into that genre, exploring how it unfolded in different iterations. Fun times!
Coryn woke up, and found herself moving before she could consciously direct her actions. When at last her brain caught up with her body, she was pinning a fellow mink onto the bed, her dagger at his throat. It took a moment more for her to relax. “My apologies,” the sable mink said, rolling over to tuck the dagger into its sheath, kept by the bedpost.
There’s two minks here in this opener. And one’s male and we’re in bed.
So, ok, someone snored or something and the Sable Mink, Coryn, reacts decisively and maybe a little rudely.
I just find myself questioning how the dagger’s sheath stayed on the bedpost in the rapidity of the actions.
That’s probably irrelevant.
I would rather (and this is me) see the mechanism the allows this tightly strung deathtrap trigger relax. Does she find terrified eyes staring back? Amused? Does she feel his arousal building or fleeing in the non-existent gap of their bodies? Is he even clothed… is it even dawn yet… is his musk enough to soothe the savage beast?
This is a first draft and not smooth at all.
From my Trick or Treat story… treat side:
The Witch of the Wood straddled the old oaken chair beneath various hanging bundles, bouquets, and bunches of dried and drying herbs as she waved a smudge stick in the air in slow artistic sweeps. The fire for her fireplace did not light the room, so much as the shadows and darkness hung back from her allowing all the scraps of lights in a dark and stormy night such as this seek shelter beneath her roof.
Coryn awoke to her dagger at the throat of the mink she was pinning on the bed. “My apologies,” the sable mink said, before she returned the dagger to its sheath on the bedpost.
Coryn had her knife to the mink’s throat before she’d even awoken; muscle memory and surprise conspiring to put steel to the neck of the mink below her.
As ways to wake up went, having one’s knife to a squirming mink underneath her wasn’t so bad, Coryn thought. “My apologies,” she said, rolling off him to return the dagger to its sheath.
Overall, the “found herself moving before she could consciously direct her actions” line is just clunky, passive, and terrible in the initial example. Nuke that without mercy or hesitation. Even just going through the initial line, if I kept it simple, I’d still be cutting like crazy:
Coryn woke up, and found herself moving moved before she could consciously direct her actions without thinking. When at last her brain caught up with her body, she was pinning a fellow another mink onto the bed, her dagger at his throat. It took a moment more for her to She relaxed. “My apologies,” the sable mink said, rolling over to tuck the dagger into its sheath, kept by the bedpost.
The Witch of the Wood straddled the old oaken chair beneath various hanging bundles, bouquets, and bunches of dried and drying herbs. as She waved a smudge stick in the air in slow artistic sweeps. The fire for Her fireplace did not light the room, so much as the shadows and darkness hung back from her. Allowing all the scraps of lights in a dark and stormy night such as this to seek shelter beneath her roof.