What a (first) line!

firstlinesWhen my manuscript came back from my agent with its first batch of edits last week, I was so excited. To have someone engaged with you in your whole work, and sharing their thoughts, is a special kind of connection.

I had wondered how the edits would come. Would they come on hard copy? I doubted that because after all it’s 2013 and we have so many greener options. Would it be a Google doc because we had tried that in our critique group and it didn’t win first place on the preferred form of critiquing and making changes. Turned out we were Old School and still preferred paper. Was there some other way I didn’t even know about?

They showed up on Google doc and after a brief nervous sweat, I looked forward to learning how to use this method better. It’s so much better than paper in so many ways and I really embraced the opportunity to get proficient at it. Besides, it’s so tidy. And everybody’s changes automatically save and never go away. No losing your hard copy in an old file or spilling a glass of juice on it–not that I did that. The days of losing work–gone. (Note: when I typed this, I thought it was a Google doc, but no…actually, track changes in Word was the flavor.)

I started flipping through the manuscript in the view form to see the extent of the edits–you know, so I could tell how far in the cave I needed to crawl. I got to page 50. “Wow,” I told my husband. “I must have really polished these pages. There aren’t any edits.”

“You’re probably looking at the view wrong,” he said. (Oh, ye of little faith.)

“No–oh.” I clicked a button and saw I was indeed looking at it wrong.

There it was–highlighted with a comment. The dreaded first sentence.

No, I thought. Anything but the first sentence. I had labored over this and changed it about 8 million times (I’m approximating.) I stared at the wall for dramatic flare.

Five minutes later, I got excited. I got out my legal pad and started carrying it around jotting down new first sentences. I kept it by my bed. I dreamed new first sentences, ones I liked so much more. Ones I thought others would like.

What makes a great first line? Even more importantly, what first lines do I love? I Googled famous first lines. But before I even got to that doc, it came to me. I trusted it. I liked it. And now I have a new first line. Heck. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll Google famous first lines, and there it’ll be.

2 thoughts on “What a (first) line!

  1. That is a brilliant idea – to focus on that first line, really spend time with it, and write up alternates. Ten, twenty, or more. And then to do that with the next sentence, and the one after…okay, maybe not. Because then it would take ten, twenty, or more years to complete one novel! But still, that kind of care for my work – that’s something I should strive for.

    • Certainly on the first line. Arthur Levine compared those first pages to a first date where you decide if you will go on more after that. To stick with that metaphor, the first line would be the first seconds of the first encounter and we all know it only takes 30 to determine if there’ll be more. Write on, QS!

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