Friday, January 11, 2019

Endings and Beginnings

The Old Year
--John Clare, 1793 – 1864

The Old Year's gone away
     To nothingness and night:
We cannot find him all the day
     Nor hear him in the night:
He left no footstep, mark or place
     In either shade or sun:
The last year he'd a neighbour's face,
     In this he's known by none.

And welcome to the New Year!

I am reminded of what T.S. Elliot once said, that last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words are yet to be written.

So now we have an opportunity to begin a new story. A blank page is in front of me, and I’m still trying to figure out my first line. It’s intimating, writing that first line. An argument can be made that the beginning of the story is the most important. First impressions and all. In fact Jacob Appel suggests in his article, 10 Ways to Start Your Story Better, that the fate of most literary endeavors is sealed within the initial paragraph, “and that the seeds of that triumph or defeat are usually sown by the end of the very first sentence.”

“In writing, as in dating and business, initial reactions matter. You don’t get a second chance, as mouthwash commercials often remind us, to make a first impression.”

Consider these iconic first lines:

Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice (1813): It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851): Call me Ishmael.

George Orwell, 1984 (1949): It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities (1859) : It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850): Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451(1953): It was a pleasure to burn.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1953): It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.

So I wrote my first line, to my new story. It reads:

To see the elephant: an American expression popular in the 19th century. It means to gain experience, overcome unexpected dangers and face the miseries of life, but at an extraordinary cost.

Well, I’ll work on it.

What is the first line to your new story?

Bobbi Miller


Teresa Robeson said...

First lines are exceedingly difficult! I have rewritten the first line of my YA WIP about 20 times already. Every time I think I have nailed it, someone shoots it down and I restart. It’s a Sisyphusian task. 😐

Yvonne Ventresca said...

Still working on it....

Rebecca C said...

Like the others, I am also still working on mine and have changed it several times. :)

Bobbi Miller said...

I agree, Teresa! Exceedingly difficult. Revision is a constant! But we keep rolling that rock along!😱

Bobbi Miller said...

Revision is our middle name, Rebecca! And it never ends!

Bobbi Miller said...

Always and always, Yvonne!🔄

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for introducing me to this American expression, Bobbi - "see the elephant."
I've had swell time reading all about via Google.
You've created a compelling FIRST LINE and I order you to move forward! :)
Your Fan Esther

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Esther: ❤❤❤❤

April Halprin Wayland said...

This is wonderful, Bobbi... it's what we're told time and again, and it's easy to forget. I worked on the first line of New Year at the Pier, and I used it to close the story,too. I'm grappling with other first lines this month!

Marcia Strykowski said...

Excellent collection of first lines and your first line sounds very intriguing, as well!

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi April, and thank you!!!❤❤❤

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Marcia, and ❤❤❤❤❤!!!

loisP said...

A mentor when I was writing a lot of short stories years ago recommended not to start a story until I felt ‘pregnant’ with it, until the idea was so well formed in my mind I could no longer keep it in. What I took from this was not to put anything on paper until I had the voice of the opening para. I’ve pretty well stuck with that, and of the 40 stories i’ve had published, and eight kids books, I’d say no more than 1/2 doz stories had any changes to the opening lines in the published form, and only 1 book, when the first draft opening para got moved just a little farther down the page.

Bobbi Miller said...

Such good advice, Lois! Thank you!!

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Bobbi, a great post on opening lines. I know you will write a brilliant first line. I love the examples you give and wonder how many revisions of those powerful first lines these authors wrote...until it was perfect.