Inkpop Blog

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Write a knockout first line

Posted by inkpop on October 23, 2009

LynnWeingarteninktip #4: Wherever Nina Lies author Lynn Weingarten recommends learning from the greats

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

This opening line from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ranks second on the American Book Review’s “100 Best First Lines of Novels,” and is one of Lynn Weingarten’s favorites.

Weingarten, author of Wherever Nina Lies, lauched her career by editing books for Alloy Entertainment, the creator of Gossip Girl, The Clique, and the Private series. Currently working on at two-book series for HarperTeen (the first of which will be released in 2011), Weingarten shares her tips for hooking readers with a strong opening line for a book, short story, essay, or poem …

Communicate a personality

While there are no hard and fast rules for writing an awesome opening line, Weingarten recommends that writers communicate a personality. “This doesn’t necessarily have to be the personality of a character—the personality of a place or a time works, too,” she says. “Give the reader something unique, either in terms of setting, event, perspective, character, or voice.” 

The opening line of Wherever Nina Lies is about the Ellie’s (the main character) perspective of “a ridiculous guy”:

The guy walking toward me is good-looking in an obnoxious way, like he’d play the hot jerk in a TV movie about why drunk driving is bad or how it doesn’t pay to cheat on the SATs.

Don’t obsess

A killer opening line is important to any project’s success, but at what point during do you channel your energy into producing a knockout? “It varies from person to person and project to project,” Weingarten says. “Sometimes obsessing over the perfect first line from the get-go can ruin your momentum. Other times it can help you figure out exactly what it is you’re trying to say and point you in a good direction that you might not have thought to go in otherwise.”

Weingarten likes to jump right into a story and not worry too much about the first line, and revises later.

Like we always say: Read, read, read

Study up on opening lines of published works to identify their spark. “Then forget all of that. Forget that other books and other writers even exist, and sit down and write something that is totally your own,” Weingarten suggests.

Once you’ve cleared your head, look at your own first line from the perspective of a reader. “Ask yourself, ‘If I picked up a book or magazine and saw my first line—knowing nothing else about what was to come—would you want to keep reading?”

Afterall, sometimes you are your own best critic. 

Inkpop Forums topic: What’s your favorite opening line?

The inkpop blog is written by inkpopAmy

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