The Distraction of the Opening Line

The perfect opening line… so often we lionize masterfully crafted opening sentences, subscribing classic examples to memory, often to the point of diluting their immediacy. However, as one commits to beginning the first draft, to what lengths does one feel tempted to dwell on that opening salvo? To what degree will the first sentence predestine the remainder of the work towards greatness or mediocrity?

I find this is simply one example of the many tiny distractions upon which we choose to obsess, in lieu of getting down to the business of writing. So very often do we dwell on decisions and considerations well in advance of our position in the Process. Not to say that a strong opening isn’t of vital importance, but the focus at this stage of the project should be in generating sentences, not in perfecting and polishing them.

Lingering on the perfect opening provides the writer with the opportunity to stall, to daydream towards a time beyond finishing the first draft, to forward the scope of the moment. Keeping an eye on the objective helps to motivate us and keep our morale and drive hot and lubricated. The very moment this serves to hold us back, however, we must immerse our heads into a bucket of figurative ice water, and shake it off.

Rather than focusing on the opening sentence, we should consider the opening paragraph, the opening page, the opening chapter. In my practice I outline my plot structure to prepare for a strong opening during pre-writing. The first entry in my outline is always called “Boom!” This is the moment within the Status Quo at which an immediate crisis shows how the protagonist acts and reacts under pressure, often in a flawed manner. But my focus is on the scene, not the lead-in.

There is plenty of time during revision to boil down all the superfluity of the first draft and thereby distill out a tight, engaging opening sentence, one that sets the tone and timbre for the entire work. And that day shall come.

But right now, at this point in the Process… it is time to write.

One response to “The Distraction of the Opening Line

  1. It is a distraction, and very often one best saved for revision. On my current project, I have rewritten my first line maybe five times, and there may be more to come. You yourself even teased my for my original first line. However, I did not know the full feel my book would have until it was over. Which is why I believe the better line came from revisions over drafting.

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