How to Get Ideas: First Lines

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. So far I’ve written about what if questions, titles, and prompts. Today I’m going to take a look at first lines.

How to Get Ideas (1)
How to Get Ideas: First Lines

The first line of any story should hook your reader into going on and reading the rest of the story. In order to hook the reader, that first line has to be interesting and get the reader curious about what’s going to happen next. The first line should have an inherent question to it that makes the reader keep reading to find the answer.

K. M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel goes into detail about every aspect of story structure. I loved her chapter about hooks and first lines because she helps you understand what exactly makes a first line great. Weiland discusses the five elements a first line can have: an inherent question, character, setting, a sweeping declaration, and tone. The first line should set up some or all of these important story elements in order to make the reader want to keep reading.

Weiland also makes an important observation—that most first lines aren’t that memorable. First lines don’t have to be super-memorable, amazing lines. They simply have to make the reader want to read the next line and the line after that.

I love first lines. First lines can convey so much. They can show you the main character and setting, set the tone for the book, and ask a question that the story will answer. When I write a story, I spend a lot of time on the first scene. I love taking my time on that first scene and first line, working to make them perfect. But I also love creating stories from first lines.

With the very first full-length novel I wrote, I initially thought of it by thinking of the first line: I’ll never forget the day he came. Looking back I know that that isn’t a great first line—it’s vague and not that interesting—but that line just popped into my head one day and it got me started.

You can always change your first line later on when you edit, but you can take a line and use it as your launching point for a story. A seemingly random line—a random sentence, a piece of dialogue, and interesting description—can all be a starting point for you to write from and build a story around.

For me though, first lines usually just feel right. I had the idea for Somewhere Only We Know rolling around in my head for years, but it wasn’t until I thought of a new first line that I was able to write the entire book. I love my first line. It introduces Frankie and Susan, explains what happened to their mother, and asks the question of why Susan is boxing up her books. It piqued my curiosity and made me want to keep writing. I hope it makes readers want to keep reading

SOWK first line
The first lines of Somewhere Only We Know

What’s your favorite first line from a book? Do you like creating stories from first lines?

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