fiction / first-drafting / novels / writing

The First Monumental Word

I may have to give up on my search for the perfect first line. I keep going back for it. I haven’t made much progress at all with Attempt #3 at writing the new novel—yep, I went back not once but twice to start over from scratch. Drastic scratch. Brand-new and blank Word document, after all the many pages that came before. The concept gets better each time (I hope), but the page count keeps falling off to oblivion. The current problem seems to be the new starting point, the first note at which to open the whole entire book. It doesn’t matter if I’ve written scenes that come after, I have to get the first line down. I have to know it in order to know the tone and mood and lens through which to see everything that comes after. Don’t I?

I may have to let go. On that first paragraph. On that first sentence. Especially on the first word, which I am putting a lot of weight on. The first sentence now starts with the word “It.” I can’t have a novel start with the word “It,” I told myself! (I’m so dramatic.) So, in horror, I went back this morning, even though I’d made progress way past the first page the other day. And I am staring at “It” and I can’t find another way to craft that particular sentence without starting with “It” and so, unavoidably, the sentence has fallen to pieces and I just erased it entirely from the document and am now first-sentenceless.

Will this ever end?

Question: How long does it take to find your first line? Have you ever written a whole entire draft and gone back and filled in the first line later? Can you know your book without knowing at what exact pinpoint in time where it starts? Can you? (Yeah, yeah, I know that’s more than one question.)

I usually get my first sentence before I can continue. I’ve skipped the middle before, but never the start. The start, for me, is everything.

And, p.s., you think that’s bad? My narrator has changed names at least five times.

6 thoughts on “The First Monumental Word

  1. OMG Nova! I will get on the phone and help you. I just won this workshop series on master techniques (I get to take 4 of them, for free!) from Elizabeth Stark ( and last night’s class was on “first lines.” I will totally share what I learned with you.

    I suck at endings, but I’m pretty okay at beginnings.

  2. I think it would be very hard to stuck on the first line🙂 I have wiped out the whole first chapter; thus the first line was the first sentence of the second chapter!

    I think – sometimes the whole story has to tell you what the first line is… take the pressure off yourself and let your characters fill in the first line for you.

    The cover for your book is fabulous! Can’t wait to read it. Congrats.

  3. Good news! I found my first line this week. Not to mention my first paragraph. And the first chapter (written before the first line, actually) is shaping up.

    Is this, ohmaybehmmmIdunnoperhaps?, shaping up to be a novel…?

    We will see🙂

  4. With my novel, I just started right in the middle of the action, so the first line was easy, knowing it probably wouldn’t remain that way. And now, near the end, I know the book REALLY starts a few chapters in, so the beginning has come, both times, naturally for me.
    it’s the damn ending I am having trouble with.

  5. The first line of my first novel keeps on changing, because the first scene is constantly in flux. All my other projects seem to find their first lines so easily.

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