Tonight I’m going to the Moth Story Slam at the Bell House in Brooklyn. I love story telling events (also check out the Liar Show), and while I’ve been an audience member at various story telling events for the past few years, I’ve started to write a few of my own, but as of yet I’ve been too chicken to try my hand at preforming at one myself .
At the (always packed) story slams more storytellers sign up to preform then get a chance to, so at the end of the night all of those that didn’t get randomly picked to read get to come on stage and deliver just the first line of their stories, and they are almost always really intriguing.
Which got me thinking, in journalism the lede is traditionally really important, and the shift has been that before it had to contain those all important: who, what, where, when, why, and how, while now more and more it seems the emphasis is on a clever opening. But wether it’s a personal story preformed live, a news article, a blog post, or a novel, as a writer you have precious little time to convince your audience that they should give a shit and invest in caring about what you have to say.
To that end, I came across an article from The Guardian called “The 10 best first lines in fiction“, while my 10 best would be different, the article makes some good points. Especially striking to me was the opening line in what was my favorite book when I was 15, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
“Postwar American first lines don’t come much more angsty or zeitgeisty than this.” says the article.
So I figured I would look at some of my first lines.
From my in progress attempts at story telling:
“My parents got divorced on Valentine’s Day 1984, when I was three years old.”
“I think like most people I’m inherently selfish, but also like most people, I want to see myself as generous, kind and helpful.”
“I lived in Ann Arbor during college, which to many people (especially those who try to talk to me about football) implies that I went to the University of Michigan.”
and from my in progress novel:
“With all other vices tauntingly out of my price rage, walking became both my means of escape and self-flagellation.”
and from a recent short story:
“No one thought much of it at first—a little odd maybe but more just a small talk conversation starter: a solid week of rain and 65 degree temperatures in early February.”
So what do you think? How important is an opening line? How strong or weak are mine? Do any of them make you want to hear more?