A New Start

My goal is to improve the editing job on this writing post over the one from last Monday. I know that's a convoluted sentence, but scroll down to last Monday's post and follow the comment trail. That whole thing was convoluted, so why should this opening be different?

Anyway . . . onward to the meat of today's post. Substitute soy if you're vegan.


We start a story or a novel with some idea that's new and fresh to us. Sometimes we don't get too far along before we change that first sentence. I've only written one first sentence in a short story or novel that I didn't go back and change.

That sentence was: It was Charlie Merrill's turn to die.

The title of the story was "Tom, Dick, and Charlie," and it was published in the now-defunct HandHeldCrime. I remember it because it's been the only time so far I haven't changed the opening line once I wrote it.


The opening line is the most important one in the entire piece. For that reason, I try to make it the best I can. Sometimes I finish a piece and still go back and tinker with the opening. When I get it right, bells ring, lights go off and there's do doubt. I know that's the line.

Does that happen with every opening line for me? Every FINISHED opening line?

Sadly, no. But I try to make it happen. I try to make every opening line the best one yet.


Because for every word, every sentence that doesn't grab the reader the chances multiply that you'll receive a pass from an agent or editor. When that happens, no one will read your work.

Your opening line may not be the the best one you've ever written, but it needs to be the best you can write for that particular story. It needs to hold intrigue and promise. It needs to set the stage. It needs to propel the reader to the next sentence.

"Good enough" isn't good enough for opening lines. Opening lines need all the spark and sizzle you can give them. All the pizzazz you can muster. And still fit the story.

Nobody said this writing gig was easy. But this is what we do. Writers write.

- - - - - - - - - -
Yes, I know that last week I wrote about the pitfalls of using the 'it was' construction.
Yes, I know the only opening line I've never changed is an 'it was' construction.
I also said be aware of when you use it. Don't overuse it. Sometimes, it works.
And the same with 'it.'

That's my story and I'm sticking to it :)


Al Leverone said…
Hi Carol, really interesting post. I find when I'm really burning it up on a story (sorry for the dang "it," let me start over)...when I'm really kicking ass on a story, I tend to use a lot of "it"s, but then when I'm editing and rewriting, they stick out to me like a sore thumb, so it's not a problem to eliminate them on a rewrite, usually by being more descriptive.

I love your point about the opening sentence. Out of curiosity I looked over some of the opening lines to my short stories and discovered that one of my two favorites is from a story that I have not been able to find a home for yet. "Dude, it's gonna be a piece of cake." I'm not sure what that says about me, but there you go...
Carol Kilgore said…
I think you do it right. Don't let your inner editor have a say when you're drafting the story. After it's done, that's the time for the editor to play.

FWIW, I love your opening line. Opens up all sorts of possibilities.
Mark Troy said…
That was good opening line. Like you, I do a lot of rewrites on the opening line. The beginning of a story gets more revision than any other part. Usually, I don't even know how the story should begin until I've finished it.
Carol Kilgore said…
So true about not knowing how the story will REALLY begin until you finish it. I've chopped paragraphs and chapters to get to the real beginning many times. Or it begins someplace I didn't even know when I started it. All the same, I need a first line that works for me before I go too far, even knowing it will most likely change.
Cassandra Jade said…
You're absolutely right about opening lines being important. Recently I was at a second hand book sale and I was selecting a large number of books. I've been caught out by blurbs before promising the world and then delivering rubbish. This time I read the first paragraph (or about half the first page). Those books that grabbed me were purchased. Those that didn't were left on the shelf. I assume that when agents and the like are reading - given the volume of books they read - they are probably even pickier about what they invest their time in.

Thanks for a great post.
Helen Ginger said…
Most times, you just know a great opening line when you write it. Often, it seems that some of the great ones are short, sweet, to the point, and with a twist. Yours did all that.

Straight From Hel
Carol Kilgore said…
I assume the same thing about the reading habits of agents and editors, Cassandra. And that's exactly how I choose books, too.
Carol Kilgore said…
Now if I could just find that perfect line more often, Helen, my life would be a LOT easier!
Eric said…
Great post. The first line is definitely the hardest part for me. I usually have some story idea, but starting...well, once I get past it let's just say the writing become easier. I'm getting better however, at just putting something down and coming back to it later.
Carol Kilgore said…
Yes, Eric, put some words down. You can always return and edit them. And you will - again and again. But you must begin with something to edit.