It was late at night and I was rifling through my library. I would take a book from the shelf, and open it to the first page. The book remained open only a moment as I scanned the page before returning it to the self and moving on to the next book. The process did not take long due to the size of my library. The two stout, white painted bookshelves could only hold so many books and manga. I was searching for something.
To be more accurate, I was conducting an analysis. I was looking for archetypes, patterns, and ultimately, guidence. I read only a short selection from each book:
"My name is Kathy H."
"All of this happened, more or less."
"A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories."
...came the first three. The next were personal favorites and rather striking:
"It was a pleasure to burn."
"The sky above port was the color of a television, turned to a dead channel."
"Two hours before dawn I sat in the peeling kitchen and smoked one of Sarah's cigarettes, listening to the maelstrom and waiting."
As I'm sure some of you have recognized by now, I'm looking at the first line in each novel. Crafting the first line of a story is a kind of art form. It has to grab the reader, while giving you a hint of what to expect. They have to envoke atmosphere and scene in one fell swoop. And of course, it has to sell the damn book.
This is not to say that a bland opening line means a great novel. My first example came from Never Let Me Go, a surprising and heartbreaking fictional biography set in an all to possible futrue. Of all my examples, it's the plainest and least grabbing. It does, however, offer an odd clue and hint of personality in the fact the narrator's last name is abbreviated. Little details like that can make or break an initial line.
Crafting the perfect first line was foremost on my mind that evening. I had been beating my head against the wall attempting to come up with the first line for Paper Girl. When I set about to write something, be it a journal entry, a blog post, or even a story, I often find myself unable to start without having that first line. It's not exactly fear that's holding me back. The first line is a kind of parent that each following sentence descends. I've often started over or abandoned entire bodies of work due to a bad first line.
Thankfully, I have yet to abandon the few pages of script I have written. Unfortunately I haven't settled on a first line either. Some months ago I thought for sure that I had nailed it. I was so excited by the line I spent my morning throwing together a new comic just to introduce it to others.
At the time, it summed up exactly what I had in mind for the story. It was also provocative, and grabbed my attention straightaway. Unfortunately, I began to rethink this the last few weeks.
The problem is that since I had come up with that line, I've been heavily reworking the main character, Novella. Novella has always come across as a weak character, too pliant to the wishes of other's in the story. For quite a number of outlines she didn't seem to have any concept of free will at all. The other characters of Akisa and Miki seemed far more clear in my mind, and I was able write them with much more focus and easy. Novella, by contrast, came across to one of my friends as "someone afraid of her own shadow."
The last few outlines I have been trying to improve her, especially the current Draft 5 plotline. Even so she seemed missing some critical component that made her more dynamic. Oddly enough, a workout session while watching the anime series Ghost Hound provided some inspiration. Since then, the character has been turned around in such a way that breaks the mold of a Transgender character in a webcomic. In fact, it's questionable if Novella is really Trans at all.
Since then I've been trying to get to know this character in a way I couldn't before. This Novella spoke more clearly, although I felt as if I wasn't getting to her directly. It's an odd thing to explain; directed image techniques and modified meditation doesn't always yeild results that make sense. Earlier this week, however, Novella seemed to overcome any communication difficulties and spoke to me in a way that was rather alarming at first. (Didn't I say directed image techniques were weird?)
All of this, however, didn't seem to deal with the problem I was facing. The line I came up with before didn't actually make sense for chapter I had written. The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that line needs to be conserved until later in the story where it will be far more relevant. It was also the wrong character speaking. By all rights, Novella should be the one granted the first line. I've done my best to come up with that line, but nothing seems quite be it:
"I can't remember when it first happened," or "When I was young, I remembered what the world felt like," aren't terrible. Yet they are lacking a quality that makes me stand up and say, "Yes! This is the first line of Paper Girl!" Some have suggested that I move on and write other parts of the story and get back to the initial line later. This is where I run into a problem. Paper Girl will take literally years for me to complete. The story I have in mind is complicated enough to warrent several volumes. Considering I plan to draw this story as a webcomic, I don't want to wait until the script is perfect to begin drawing. On the contrary, I want to keep the script only a bit ahead of the drawing so as to keep me interested. And of course there's my problem of how the first line is the progenitor of all the following.
I hope I come up with something soon, the wait is annoying.