Suprising First Lining

Name of a ‘yard’ in Norwich. The capital of East Anglia has the most surprising monikers for streets, including: ‘Tombland’, ‘Queen of Hungary Yard’, Rampant Horse Street’ and Unthank road. All would sit well in amazing first lines….

Your first line is probably the most important in your work. It should surprise and intrigue your reader and somehow give a taste of what is to come. Ideally, it should be unusual or uncanny and most importantly, it should encourage your reader to read on…

‘”Damn,” said the Duchess.” is a first line attributed to Agatha Christie. “Damn” was a pretty raw word in 1920 or so, rarely uttered in front of ladies, not to mind say by one, and then one of high social standing. So, an opening line such as this was written to shock, to intrigue, to grab the readers’ attention and it is a good idea to find one with a similar punch in the modern age.

Thereafter, follow your first line with a pacy set of three chapters. These are also the showpiece you’ll be sending off to agents and publishers, so make sure they’re written to hook.

Some writers write their last chapter first, so they can figure out their plot, and then leave writing those all-important first few pages until last. In fact, the very last piece of writing they might do is the first line. Therefore, don’t fret over your opening, get the rest of your work down and come back to it later if necessary.

And, take note that just as your first line should reach out and grab your reader – your final line should linger with your reader for sometime afterwards…

 

Can you guess which works gave us the following opening lines? Answers below

 

1) ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

 

2) ‘I’m writing this sitting in the kitchen sink.’

 

3) ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

 

4)It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

 

5) ‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’

6) ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’

 

7) ‘Mother died today.’

 

8 ) ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’

 

9) ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’


10) ‘He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.’

 __________________________________________________________

1)      Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

2)      I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

3)      A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

4)      1984, George Orwell

5)      Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

6)      Ulysses, James Joyce

7)      The Stranger, Albert Camus

8 )      The Crow Road, Iain Banks

9)      The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley

10)   Orlando, Virginia Woolf

 

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About suehealy

Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by the Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, the Heinrich Boll Association and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Her play ‘Brazen Strap’ ran at the King’s Head Theatre in May 2016, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has also shown at the Hackney Attic and the Etcetera Theatre in London, with readings in Norwich, Brighton and Cornwall. Sue’s nine radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4, WLRfm, KCLR96fm. Awards, Residencies and Bursaries: 2017 – Claremorris Fringe Award, Heinrich Boll bursary and residency 2016 - Peggy Ramsay Foundation playwriting grant, Tyrone Guthrie Centre residency, Arts Council England funding 2015 – BBC Opening Lines Award, Arte Studio Ginestrelle residency 2014 - University of Lincoln Ph.D. fees funding 2013 – Escalator Award, Áras Eanna Inis Oirr residency 2012 - Meridian Short Story Prize 2011 – The Molly Keane Memorial Award, Sussex Playwrights’ Award, the HiSSAC Award 2010 - Ted O'Regan bursary, Tyrone Guthrie Centre residency (2016 - Finalist for the Eamon Keane Playwriting Prize, Nick Darke Award and the Old Vic 12) A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, she spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. Presently, she is London-based, researching a PhD on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is Deputy Literary Manager at the Finborough. View all posts by suehealy

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