Home / Genre / The Starting Line: First Lines, First Pages / Great and Not-So-Great Lines, Part 2

Great and Not-So-Great Lines, Part 2

I found the guitar in a pawn shop on Second Avenue.

Suppose a veteran was writing an article about the role of music in his acclimation to civilian life after his second tour of duty in Iraq. He may start his book with something like the first line above. Composing a great first line is usually a process in which the line evolves from good to better to best. So let’s see how we can make this first line better. We need more descriptive detail about either the guitar or the pawn shop to draw the reader into the story, using vivid nouns and verbs where possible. We also need to tug on the reader’s heart strings a little. See what you think about the following evolution of the first line.

I found the guitar in a pawn shop on Second Avenue.

I rescued the guitar from a dusty pawn shop on Second Avenue.

I rescued the guitar from a dusty pawn shop on Second Avenue, but in the end, it rescued me.

Although I rescued the guitar from a dusty pawn shop on Second Avenue, it rescued me after my second tour of duty in Iraq.

The second draft uses a better verb—rescued, instead of found—and includes a description of the shop. The third draft shows the contrast of who really rescued whom. The fourth draft makes the sentence flow better and reveals why it was so important for the guitar to rescue the man.

Here is how the first paragraph could read:

Although I rescued the guitar from a dusty pawn shop on Second Avenue, it rescued me after my second tour of duty in Iraq. I came home broken in body and spirit. Memories of gunfire, darkness, and pain ravaged my mind. As medicine and therapy mended my body, music mended my soul. This is my story.

How does the beginning of this book impress you? Does the first line make you want to read more? Does the first paragraph draw you into the book? Do you think these changes would grab the reader’s attention, stir their hearts to read on, and intrigue their curiosity? (See Three Keys for a Powerful First Line to learn more about these elements, and check out Great and Not-So-Great First Lines, Part 1 for examples of great first lines.)

Tell me how you would tweak the original first line. Have you seen your first lines go through stages of editing like this? If so, share about it in the comments!

Writing first lines is a process of going from good to better to best. Don't give up on the process. Click To Tweet

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4 comments

  1. Seeing the process, the evolution is quite helpful, as are having the questions in the end. Thanks!

  2. Katy Kauffman - Writing Captivating Nonfiction/The Starting Line: First Lines, First Pages

    I’m glad you found it helpful, Tina! Thank you for saying so. I wish you well in the writing process!

  3. I, too, enjoy seeing the process. How much do we give away in the first sentence so that it still draws us to the second one? Does it leave you intrigued or questioning? It’s hard to hit a happy medium, especially because each reader is different in their response.

    For me, the fourth sentence doesn’t draw me in. It’s almost like a summary statement. I prefer the third one. I might write the paragraph like this:

    I rescued the guitar from a dusty pawn shop on Second Avenue, but in the end, it rescued me. I came home from Iraq, broken in body and spirit. Memories of gunfire, darkness and pain ravaged my mind. As medicine and therapy mended my body, music mended my soul. This is my story.

    The first sentence fills me with questions and the second one engages an emotional response. By the time I read the last sentence, I definitely wanted to read more.

    So, what did this come from? I don’t want to stop here!

    • Katy Kauffman - Writing Captivating Nonfiction/The Starting Line: First Lines, First Pages

      Dear Sherry, thank you for sharing another way to start the book. This is just a paragraph I made up as an example, so I appreciate it that you want to read more! I would want to read a book like this, too.

      I understand about the delicate balance of giving enough information for the reader to want to keep reading, but not giving too much away. I like how you changed the first and second sentences of the final draft of the paragraph.

      Come back in the future to this column, and share some more! Blessings, Katy

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