Opening Novel Lines

You’re supposed to make a splash with your opening line. You’re supposed to grab the reader and never let go for the rest of the time they have your story in their hands. Everything rests in only a few words.

Whatever you do, don’t screw it up.

That’s a ton of pressure for a writer to put on their opening line. I mean not everything can be The Dark Tower.

 

The movie Throw Momma From the Train focuses much of the writer’s block on that idea of not being able to nail the opening line. That if he could just do that, maybe the whole damn thing would flow.

I’m no Steven King (or Billy Crystal), but I thought it might be interesting to look at my own first lines.

The Dark That Follows

Office building. Elevator. Sam from accounts payable. Sip of water. Far office. Jim the terrible boss. New office. Handsome guy. Blush. Smile. Sandwich. Phone call. Tears. Screaming.

Marilyn.

A cheat of sorts as the main character is a fortune teller (who can actually see the future) and these are the fragments of his initial reading. While I like what I was going for, the idea of something quick, little flashes of information that Jason Mills was getting, it doesn’t ultimately grab you in a way I actually think the next line might:

“Are you sure that this isn’t going to hurt?”

That asks a question and makes the reader wonder and hopefully keep reading to find out what the hell is going on. Again, I remind myself that this is my first novel and the important thing is that it exists at all. Maybe I could have taken another year and finally hit upon the perfect opening line, but they say perfect is the enemy of done.

Hollow Empire

The splintering door shattered Vadim’s peaceful sleep.

This is actually the first story within Hollow Empire (which is a Dark Fantasy set in a post-black plague). Within Hollow Empire follows four characters (two written by me and two written by Jeremy Neill). So should there be more weight with this line? Should there be something epic to set off the entire world rather than someone awakening from sleep? There is action happening, so it is an improvement from The Dark That Follows, but again I’m left wondering if the 3rd line might be a better beginning line:

“You slept with my wife!”

And I Feel Fine (printed in the Machina Obscurum Anthology)

Huh… I guess the Mayans were right after all.

I actually really like this opening line. Considering the story is a post-apocalyptic story it fits the narrator’s voice perfectly. Someone who has developed a somewhat dark sense of humor about her development of being one of the few (maybe only) survivor of the end times. This does a decent job of giving you a taste of the voice who’ll be leading you on your journey.

 

Til the Last Candle Flickers (printed in the Machina Obscurum Anthology)

Dave Simms wished the world would just end already.

Another one I like a lot. And yes, both my contributions to the anthology were apocalypse stories… what can I say, I have fears and sometimes the best way to face them is to put them onto the page where maybe they can no longer do you any harm. Maybe. Still, with this one it establishes that our main character either has a problem with the world or is simply impatient for things to end.

 

The Echo Effect (forthcoming NEW novel)

The shadow of Olympus Mons stretched beyond Lieutenant Aaron Anders’s sight.

Only a couple of people have even seen this beginning. And while it may not grab the reader in the same way that prophesizing the end of the world might, I want to set the stage with this line. I need the reader to know that we aren’t on Earth and instead are starting on Mars. And while the book itself isn’t necessary about Mars, this mission Aaron Anders is on, will help determine his path throughout the rest of the book. Mars is his beginning.

This is just a tease, obviously. In the coming weeks, I’ll be announcing a release date for this one, so stay tuned for that.

***

I’m still learning, still trying to figure out the best line to start things off. And even if the first line isn’t an all-time classic, my hope is that as you read, you;ll still be forced into turning the pages and devouring the words. That the story becomes something you can’t put down for very long.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Little Moments

In times of craziness, where none of us knows where things will be in a month or six or a year, it’s been interesting/difficult/weird/fucked up/all of the above plus a thousand other things. I hope that each of you are staying safe the best you can.

***

I’m supposed to be writing, but I’m not. I’ve distracted myself again with some various Youtubers talking about anything and everything from Magic the Gathering to Comic Book Stores and the Virus (and how are they going to survive) to Pitch Meeting videos. I’m supposed to be putting words onto the screen, but I can’t stay focused. Too much real life.

I saw a meme at the beginning (or at least nearish the beginning of all of this) where it said that… well, let’s just go and find it… ok, I apparently can’t find it. Anyway, it said that you should be using this time to learn a new skill, a language, etc. And I saw it and thought – yeah, that’s a great idea. People will have a ton of time on their hands and they could use it constructively. Heck, even though I’m still working (thankfully) from home, I should have a little bit more time in the day where I’m not driving into the office to get some additional words on the screen.

But… it… is… hard…

My brain reads too much of the stuff online. It sees too much of the world “stuff” and suddenly I only want to be distracted from all that “stuff”. So I turn to familiar things – I watch Firefly and Community episodes to put me in a good mood.

How do you write something that is supposed to be any good when your brain wants to play squirrel all day?

And this isn’t Writer’s Block – for me, that’s where the words won’t come just because. These are external forces playing with everyone’s emotions.

***

I get some words on a novel I’m working on… have been working on, off and on for a couple of years. I’m getting closer. I feel good about the project. But it is never enough words. Not for what I want to do with the writings.

And that attitude makes it hard to celebrate the things us writers should be celebrating. Even if it is only a few hundred words that night. It doesn’t mean you failed in your goal. It means you are a couple of hundred words closer to finishing the draft.

***

So a week or two goes by and I see that Meme again but someone has added to it saying that it’s ok if you don’t accomplish all of those things… those goals. That we’re all going through something that none of us have ever experienced before and we’re reacting and acting in whatever way we can.

And that’s OK.

***

Last night I finished the edits for a novel (a different one than the one above – what can I say, I have been writing words prior to all of this “stuff”). This novel has been in my folder for a couple of years. I tried to get it in with an agent but received a stack of rejection letters instead. And maybe I haven’t pushed hard on it prior to this year because I was worried about putting it out there. It’s always scary to push the publish button.

But I hit a major milestone. And I didn’t celebrate in a loud way. I just exhaled. When my wife woke up I told her, and she’s the one who sees through all the other stuff and realizes these are the little moments to savor.

So I savored.

***

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll start revealing somethings about the upcoming novel. Until then, stay safe.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com