I’m a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month. I think it’s one of the best ways to get people inspired to work on that novel they’ve always dreamed of writing. Structure is a writer’s best friend (even when sometimes it feels like a frenemy).
Every year I try to post daily writing tips for each day in November on my Twitter. You can follow these at @LastTrilobite (you’ll also get all my retweets of things I find interesting or humorous, for no extra charge). Today’s tip, for November 1st, concerns first lines, and I thought I’d expand on that thought here.
The first line of a book is crucial. It’s what gets the reader invested to read the second line… and so on. It’s also incredibly fun to write it because for once it doesn’t have to do multiple things simultaneously (unlike, say, every other line in the story). It does not need to set the tone of the book, introduce the main character, or anything else. It just needs to grab the reader’s attention. Typically you can achieve this best by writing something outrageous or silly or intriguing. The more outlandish the better!
Whatever you do, though, please don’t make it about the weather. “It was a dark and stormy night…” is considered terrible writing for a reason. Unless it’s literally raining frogs or something, just… don’t.
Of course, if you only write one line on day 1 of NaNoWriMo you’re going to get behind in your schedule. You need to think about the second line, too. And the third, and the fourth… in a longer work, you could easily develop that first crazy line for a paragraph or three. But with only 50,000 words in your project, you don’t have time for that. You need to get to the meat of things right away. After that first line, your first paragraph really needs to start doing some work. You’ll need to introduce us to your main character, establish a preliminary setting, and set the tone. It’s a lot to pack into one paragraph, but it can be done if you’re judicious with your sentences.
You’ve got your work cut out for you. So come up with that first crazy line now–just use the first thing that pops into your head. Remember, you can always change it later. Though you probably shouldn’t–if it made your head spin the first time, it’s doing exactly what it needs to do!
Good luck to everyone doing NaNoWriMo this year, and keep at it!