Friday, January 28, 2011

First Lines and the Birth of a Story

Writers know the importance of first lines. We have to hook the reader from the very first words. And not just the first words in the story or book, but the first lines of each scene, each chapter. The last lines of scenes and chapters are pretty important, too. We want the reader to have no choice but to turn the page and keep reading, no matter how late it is.

I came across a journal called The First Line. It was a freebie in my Crime Bake tote bag. It took me a month or two, but when I gave it a closer look and then found the journal's web site, I realized how intriguing the premise was: they publish stories from all genres, and all must start with the same first line. Hmm. So what was the line for the next deadline, which turned out to be February 1? "Sam was a loyal employee."

I had just had an experience arriving at work that was kind of creepy. I wanted to use it in a story. I now had the first line. The deadline, several weeks away, was my opportunity. I drafted a bit more than half the story and ran it by a friend while I was on vacation. She gave me some ideas for several endings. I finished the story. Asked a fellow author to critique. Revised. Read it in my writers' group. Revised some more. Sent it in this afternoon. I came in 100 words under the 3000-word limit and with three days to spare on the deadline.

My second sentence in the story is, "She always came to work hours before anyone else." Yes, Sam is a she. Why not? I'm hoping that will help to hook readers in, make them want to keep reading. The journal says they let submitters know within a few weeks. And if they don't want it? I'll be fine. There are other contests, other journals. And more stories to give birth to.

What about you? Would you like the structure of an assigned first line? What would your second sentence be?


  1. I do love to write for specs, whether it be a certain subject, or be to include certain words. I think those things are fun.

    My second line:
    He never missed a day of work until it happened.

  2. I came across this journal a couple times working at EBSCO, it's a really cool idea. good luck!

  3. Edith, I also received a freebie copy of The First Line at Crime Bake. The opening of this one was, "Nick had considered himself a lucky guy, until now." The winning stories were quite intriguing.

    I'm going to be conducting free writes at my public library soon. I may use this as an exercise. Thanks!