First Impression: noun - a lasting effect, opinion, or mental image of somebody or something.
I've been thinking about the first impression writers make with page one of their works. I don't know about you, but the first few sentences I write for any work-in-progress are written and re-written and re-written. This is all for good reason. Imagine the casual bookstore customer picking up a book at the store, reading the jacket flap, then the first page, only to put it back on the shelf because the style or immediacy of conflict or setting didn't pull them in. I confess - I am one of those casual readers. It may not be a fair assessment, but with so many books on my ever-expanding wish list, it's the one I use.
Now, I don't have any special advice to offer on the subject of first impressions other than this: you have to make a compelling one. One of my writing professors advised his students to do this by ensuring "your first sentence puts your own soul in jeopardy." I think what he meant by this was that the opening had to suggest something that touched a lightning rod within the writer; something that might even skate close to an idea or theme that troubles your sleep. When I was working on my novel JANEOLOGY, the questions that kept me up at night were: Aren't there signs when someone is about to have a mental break-down? And if so, wouldn't a person's spouse see the approaching storm? So for this work, my opening was: "I stared at my attorney as he began his defense that I did not share the blame in the murder of my son."
I think there's no better way to learn the art of the literary first impression than to read as many opening lines as possible and see how they hit you.
So, I'd like to invite everyone to contribute the first line of his/her work-in-progress in the comments section of this post. Don't be shy! Several of us at What Women Write will get the party started. Here are the first lines of our works-in-progress.
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Martha Niles glanced at the stack of afternoon mail, still untouched on the table. The top envelope, identical to several others she had received over the past few months, bore the signature orb and cross logo of the Roycroft Shops in
East Aurora. This one was addressed to Sarah Wainwright, her mother.
My mother once told me: Never date a man you wouldn’t marry. This followed on the heels of: You’re never fully dressed until you smile. Like most of her pearls of wisdom, I pretended to pay attention and then did whatever I pleased. - from WAITING TO KNOCK by Pamela Hammonds
Here is something you have to learn on your own: Not every person responds to words the same way. For example, my father shouted, got red in the face and told me not to call my mother crazy even though she tried to kill me. But I looked up crazy in the dictionary so I know I’m right.. - from TELL ME IN YOUR OWN WORDS by Karen Harrington
When we first met, a decade and a handful of change ago, I was hateful to Dorrie. She thought it was because of the color of her skin, but she was wrong. Up around eighty or so – maybe even seventy – a person forgets to use her filters. Or she’s beyond caring. - from
I actually met Mac at the supermarket, so there goes any justification for disdain at my mother picking up men there. Still. This is hardly the same thing. For one, we weren’t lingering over a dish of chana masala, but in the regular, non-fragrant American supermarket, skimming blueberry muffin mixes, which are about as un-Indian as you can get if you think about it. - from KICK PUNCH BREATHE by Elizabeth Lynd
Gabriel Tucci felt the walls constrict, remembered each stroke of graphite on parchment, each thwack of setting maul to stone above the nave. No fat lemons, no olive trees, no grappa; when you seek a city of buildings and straight lines, do not be surprised when you are stabbed in the heart. - from THE ARCHITECT AT HIGHGATE by Joan Mora
Okay, now it's YOUR turn. Share YOUR first lines and/or tell me if there's a book with an opening that left a lasting first impression.