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Monday, October 8, 2012

WSG 25: Lousy First Sentences

I'm starting a new book today. Yay! But with a new book comes anxiety.


Journal
Photo by macrj

* Will this book be as good as my last?
* What if I start writing and realize it isn't very good?
* I avoided the saggy middle last time, but what if this middle becomes a lumpy mess?
* Will the romance journey be swoon-worthy?
* Will the spiritual journey be realistic and relatable?
* Will readers empathize with my characters?

But before any of these fears can circle my brain, one BIG fear trumps all.

Will my first sentence be a big pile of dog doo?

My initial attempts at the first sentence usually should be swooped into a "doggy waste" bag. I struggle to find just the right words to start a story. I've been known to lose hours, in some cases, days, trying to figure out the perfect opening line.

My solution? I no longer obsess about it. I write any old thing and MOVE ON. For some reason, giving myself permission to not write the perfect opening frees my brain to write the actual story. And, at some point, the right first line comes to me. Sometimes this doesn't happen until the revising stage, but what does it matter? It's the final result that counts. :)

Another thing that helps me get over this block is to read past winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest. This contest exists to reward writers who come up with the worst first line! I enjoy skimming through previous years' winning lines. Some of them will cause spontaneous, loud laughter. You've been warned!

How do you get past the pressure of writing the perfect first sentence? Share your tips!!

Have a wonderful day!


32 comments:

  1. Like you, I don't anymore until the book is written. Then I can go back and change it:))

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  2. I'm with you exactly...I have to write whatever comes to me and then just move on for now. I figure I'll find the perfect first sentence somewhere along the way.

    One thing that really helps me is reading first lines of others' books--especially Susan May Warren. To me, she's the queen of awesome first lines!

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    1. It's funny that other books inspire you--they typically leave me feeling worse. Like, I'll never be able to write an opening as good as that!! :)

      Susan May Warren IS the queen!!

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  3. Move on...great advice!!! I love having a kicker to open each chapter, but I don't worry about it until after I've written the chapter. Then I go back and make a first sentence that gives a hint of what's to come and sets the tone and even (hopefully) hooks the reader. Have fun with your new story!!

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    1. Sometimes I copy/paste every chapter opening and closing to make sure they all pop. I need to do that with every book, but sometimes I forget!

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  4. Yep, I just move on as well. During the revision stage, I'll let the first line simmer for awhile, but during the first draft--why worry myself into not continuing on?

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  5. The first few books I wrote I had no idea first lines were that important! I had to go back and play with them. Those books will never see the light of day, but they have been great tools for sharpening skills. Now I always write first and go back to that sentence during revisions. Have fun with your new adventure!!

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    1. Same here, Susan! My early books were great practice and really freed me to just write. Now, I'm more aware of what I'm doing, and I work harder to make each book quality!

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  6. I'm with you...just write something that conveys the general idea you want to start with...and then move on. I have more trouble with the first draft as a whole. Been trying to get rid of my internal editor. It's really hard to do!!!

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    1. Yes! Just get it started and keep going. It IS hard!

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  7. I'm with you - I don't worry too much about that first sentence until later. Even if you have the book plotted out, the overall tone make change as you write, and that could mean a change to the opening. So I start with something passable and go from there. I always try to remember that it's okay if first drafts aren't great;)

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    1. Sooo true--the tone of the book needs to be reflected in the opening line. Great point!

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  8. I'm still pressuring myself to write the perfect first line :) But moving on is way more productive and much of the time the perfect line usually comes along further down the road.

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    1. So am I--high five!! Ha! Yeah, I try to relax about it. THat helps. ;)

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  9. Jill, I can't believe how much time I used to waste fretting over a first line. Now, I write it, move on, and return to it after I've let the story jell in my mind for awhile.

    (My last "first line" I changed 17 times!!) lol!

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    1. Same here. I still might change my opening line 17 times, but I don't kill myself to get it done in one day!

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  10. Either I have a killer first line when I start a book, or I don't. If I don't, then I write a bad one and move on. I can always come back and fix it up later.

    If I'm really stuck, I start with dialogue. You can always be zippy in dialogue. :D

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    1. You're right. Dialogue can bring an opening to life!!

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  11. I don't worry about it until the end of the book - then I go back. Like you, I would lose precious time chewing on it before.

    Great thoughts, Jill.

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  12. Those sentences were well thought out, though terrible. I think you have the right idea. I do writing pretty much the same way, just write it down and fix it up later.

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    1. We should make a plaque, "Write it down and fix it up later." Ha! Love it!

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  13. I wish I could say "I just do it" but I'd be lying. That hasn't been true since the early days over nine years ago. I think it's hard when even if beta-readers see improvement, if they're still citing the same problems, you're left to wonder "How is it better when the same problems are there? Never mind any new issues that will emerge. I made the effort to apply what I learned on another book. Yet, it still haunts me."

    Writers always tell each other "Your next book will be better than the last because of what you learned" and when your next effort still has the same problems, even AFTER the first draft, you kind of wonder what's "better" if you're making the same mistakes, even though you're writing the d*** book for heaven's sake!

    I haven't written and "completed" a new book for three years. It's just hard for me to see the "Better" if the old mistakes still get in the way (Based on feedback from nearly every beta-reader, even if I'm writing the story I want to write. You can only blame "Subjectivity" on so much.

    Please pray for me, Jill, I really need it!

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    1. I agree--our next book isn't guaranteed to be better. I spend a lot of time studying the craft, really thinking about current books I've loved and how the author made me love the book. I try to apply what I learn to my own books. I'd be lying if I said every book was better than the last! But I love them all. :)

      You're in my prayers!

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  14. First lines are tough. I'm like you. I usually put a place holder in and go back to it later.

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    1. Oh, yeah! I like to highlight the "known" issues I'll have to deal with. It helps!

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  15. How fun to be starting a new book, Jill. I hope you have a great time getting to know your new characters. I'm glad you don't stress about the first line. I'm sure a wonderful one will come to you in time.

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    1. Thanks, Keli! They always hit me at the weirdest moments--but you can bet I write them down as soon as they hit! :)

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  16. I try to write something new each day, using writing prompts, that way the first sentence doesn't scare me when I'm starting a big project!!!

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    1. Smart! I haven't written prompts in a while--I love them! Maybe I'll add that to my routine? :) Thanks!

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