Tuesday, September 9, 2008

First Lines

There's a new posty type thing going around the blogosphere in which people list the first lines to their last ten stories. I like stuff like this, but unfortunately I've got a bit of a problem. I don't think I have ten stories to post, and even if I did, my old stuff is so embarrassing that I'd have to post them and then move to Greenland, where I'd be so depressed and sedentary that I'd eventually be run over by a glacier and eaten by a polar bear, and then the polar bear would get indigestion and die, and then I'd be known forever as that quack writer and polar bear murderer.

Because y'know, I was trying to be serious in my older books, and I really ought to know better. But now I am old and wise and have realized that my talents really lie in smartassery.

Anyway, I decided that I'd do it up a little differently. See, I obsessed over the first line of my last book. Obsessed. I wanted it to be the kind of line that makes other writers gnash their teeth in envy. I wanted it to be the kind of line that makes people buy the freaking book already. So I decided to look at some of my recent reads and see what they did with their first lines. I chose different genres and whatnot because diverse populations satisfy my latent statisticiany urges. These are some of my favorites that thou shalt go out and read if thou has not. And then I shalt quit talking like this.

1. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. (Laugh-your-pants-off YA)
"Some things start before other things."

Wow. Profound. Frankly, I like the chapter title better: "A Clang Well Done." Snarfalicious.

2. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. (Rocking cool mystery, complete with man in monocle)
"Harriet Vane sat at her writing-table and stared out into Mecklenburg Square."

That hyphen bothers me. Fabulous book, too many hyphens.

3. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. (Horrorish historicalish fabulousish adulty kind of book)
"We Szekeleys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship."

I kinda like this one. My only problem is that it's Van Helsing talking, and I can't get Anthony Hopkins' voice from the Dracula movie out of my head, and then I start having Keanu flashbacks and it's all downhill from there.

5. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. (Tres cool sociopolitical YA with hoverboards)
"The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit."

I love the line, but literally speaking I think they need to call the EPA. We had a cat, and her vomit was always lime green and foamy.

6. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. (Stylin' cyberpunky type thing in which my favorite character is an Inuit with "poor impulse control" tattooed on his forehead an a nuclear warhead in his motorcycle sidecar)
"The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category."

Oh, man. I wish I had written this line. I wish I could write one this good. While I'm at it, I'd like a pony. Actually, I'm lying. I don't have anywhere to put a pony.

7. Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins. (Jesus in a sideshow carnival. Need I say more?)
"The magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami."

Snarf. Snarf, and snarf again. I don't exactly know why I find this one so funny, but I do.

And then, there's the first line of my book:
"I'm lying on a mirror in the middle of an empty classroom."

I'm sure there's a point here, but I'm not quite sure what it is. Maybe the point is that I need to write more books so that I can actually do these bloggy things without cheating. And the other point is that maybe I should stop obsessing over the first line and get a little freaking perspective. My birthday is coming up in a few months. Maybe I'll ask for some perspective then.


Jamie Eyberg said...

I had to look deep in my file cabinet to find the last twenty stories. I like what you did and my mind is wandering, looking about, nervous about lying on a mirror in the middle of an empty classrom. I need to buy that book.

PJ Hoover said...

Funny! We have the same reading taste in lots of stuff it seems.
And your line is great!
I think if I started writing my first lines down, I'd have to take a break for editing on most of them.

Carrie Harris said...

Why thanks, Jamie. See, my problem is that I write long book-type things. I should start writing short stories just so I can do cool bloggy things like this.

And PJ, isn't it funny how you just happen to find people online that you have things in common with? And the editing thing? We have that in common too! I could edit for an eternity.

Jamie Eyberg said...

book length things are not a problem. I write them too. They do get in the way of short stories. My problem is, when I am writing a book and a short story comes along, I stop the book to write the story and then get back to the book. It takes me awhile to write a book, needless to say. Don't stop writing the books if that is your thing. Incredible art form.

Cate Gardner said...

Ooh, I like your inventive take on the first line thing... And I love your first line. It stands as tall as the others, if not taller.

Michele Thornton said...

"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

My personal favorite, from MT Anderson's Feed.

Carrie Harris said...

Yeah, Jamie, I'm planning to stick with books. Maybe I'll just write a series of first lines instead. :) I am, however, impressed that you can juggle books and stories together. I have a tough time with staying on top of multiple projects.

Catherine, you are fabulous. Can I send you a fruit basket or something? Seriously... thanks for the compliment!

Michele, I have to read that book now!

Susan Sandmore said...

Those were some great first lines. I always work hard at an opening line--can't feel enthused about a project until I have one I like. I feel like they should be cool/funny/interesting but not gimmicky/trying too hard. Like on The Simpsons--"That smacked of effort, man."

Laini Taylor said...

This is good to read. I am in the throes of first-line misery RIGHT NOW. I agonize. I write a ton of different versions of the opening before I can move forward, and man, do I get sick of myself!

I do love that first line from Feed. Great book.

Here's a first [two lines] that made me buy a book last week:
"An angel told Benedetta she was in Purgatory. Benedetta knew she wasn't in Purgatory because there was a scab on the angel's knuckle."

-- Time's Child, by Rebecca Ore (haven't read the whole thing yet).

Marcia said...

I have to agree that I like your line. I'd have to see what came next! Very amusing post.

Carrie Harris said...

Susan: I might just have to put that quote on my bulletin board. I'll have to buy a bulletin board first, but the quote's worth it! I know exactly what you mean.

Laini: I'm glad I'm not the only first line obsessive around here. Maybe we need a support group. Maybe Susan will join us.

Thanks, Marcia, and thanks for dropping by!

Tiny T said...

All right I bite. Here are the first lines to a couple of stories that I'm working on, but can't just work on one story and then move on to the next. I like to work on multiple stories at once. Call me crazy, but hey :)

"It’s only a soccer ball and yet it somehow manages to know exactly when to turn my life upside down."

"Damn. It is 3:30 am!"

"Keys always had to choose the wrong time to fall to the endless bottom of a woman’s purse."

Though I was reading this book by Frank Peretti and it's first line is...
"Late on a full-mooned Sunday night, the two figures in work clothes appeared on Highway 27, just outside the small college town of Ashton."

It caught my attention by the fact that how many people do you know that just 'appear' on a highway and nonchalantly start walking towards a town?

So what are your opinions? I'd like to know. I'm a newbie to writing and I respect your opinion. I'm getting close on a few, but actually finishing the stories is taking me forever! I get sidetracked by a new story/idea. **sheepish grin**

Carrie Harris said...

I so know what you mean, T. I have about six novel ideas rolling around in my head, and it's taking every ounce of self-restraint I've got not to start them. It's not that I'm not in love with my current WIP, but I'm fickle. ;)

My personal favorite of your lines is the soccer ball. Like the Peretti line, one word sticks out and makes it both interesting and unique: that the soccer ball KNOWS when to turn the narrator's life upside-down.

Y'know... I'd be interested to read some of those stories... subtle, ain't I?

Scillius Maximus said...

Only problem with this blog: Polar Bears live way north and east in Greenland and everyone lives south and west so you'd have to do a bit of traveling. On the plus side you could quite easily get trampled to death by a herd of musk ox.

they're all over the place in Greenland