Monday, February 9, 2009

Thought for the Week 2/8/09

"SOME PEOPLE HAVE A WAY WITH WORDS. OTHERS NOT HAVE WAY." Steve Martin

This week's thought comes courtesy of my hilarious and insightful friend, essayist Stacy Bolt, who uses it as her e-mail signature. Words have been on my mind more than usual this week, which is saying something, as words are always on my mind. But lately they've had their way with me, so I had to take a break from blogging so I could concentrate on my next book, which I'll talk about shortly.

Yeah, that's what we in the writing biz call foreshadowing.

Thinking about this post provides a microcosm of my process--I cull random bit of effluvia and try to weave them together. So first the Steve Martin quote arrived in my inbox from Stacy, then one of my students at the Attic Writers Workshop asked me today what makes a good first line. Which led to me revealing something about my next book.

I've written about first lines before, including my Top Eight favorites, but I've never thought about what makes them great. For me, a first line not only needs to launch the reader right into the story, posing a question that provides suspense, but should also stand alone on its own merits--a mini-work that one can admire all by itself. Ideally, it also encapsulates the experience of the entire book itself, though that's a lot to ask of one sentence.

The first lines of my first two books don't rank up with the greatest--they're tantalizing but not as suspenseful as I would like, they depend too much on what comes next, and they certainly don't sum up the whole book. But I'm fond of them as one would be of underachieving children you love anyway:

The story of how I paid for college begins like life itself--in a pool of water.

and

If you think about it (which I try not to), the very term is absurd: acting school.

Not bad, and certainly not as bad as these.

Which leads to the last part of the last bit of effluvia. Since you've all been so patient with me this past week I feel like I should give you a little something in return, like the acorn Peter Pan gives Wendy and calls it a kiss.

So here's the first line of book three in the theater people series, which is called THE JAZZ HANDS OF GOD. This time I actually may have hit all three of my criteria with...

"You're going to do WHAT?"

10 comments:

Rick said...

I love first lines too...quite often not getting through the first paragraph.

Fran said...

Oh, and there are some good first lines out there. I do like your new one, though! Can't wait to read the next line. And the one after that, and the one after that, and the one. . .

viejecita said...

Great fist line. I hpe the book gets out soon. I am going to preorder it this minute from Amazon.

And I hope you will get the "Every Day a New Thing" out in book form, and with a DVD attached for the sketches.

And also, new photo, please, to see how your hair is coming out in beautiful greys again

heddy said...

You got me at "The Jazz Hands of God." Made me laugh out loud.

therese said...

Great title, good first line. Loved the "Worst..."

Charlotte said...

On this topic, I have something to share with you. It's a cell photo I took last spring, in someone's front yard near Belmont. You'll certainly get the reference.

http://i43.tinypic.com/f01ok.jpg

Fantastic Forrest said...

Thank you for the acorn. It is great. But not as good at the first of the bad first lines. That one made my son squirt milk from his nose. I think it is super funny when he does that. I am a bad mother.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Oh, and I love the title. I envision an illustration parodying Da Vinci's The Creation of Adam. God's hand, instead of just touching Adam with his index finger, is waving jazzily.

Whaddya think?

Marqy said...

anxiously waiting for this!

Marc Acito said...

Love the idea for the cover. And love the cell phone photo, too. SO appropriate.

FYI, it wasn't me.