Tuesday, August 03, 2010

First Lines

Whether writing musical notes, lyrics, poetry, verse, or a full-length novel, writers write to move people; stir something within. It can be to motivate, to heal, or simply to raise awareness of some topic or plight of human nature.
(image borrowed from my space)

But there's something special about rhythm, the flow that words set to music takes on. We constantly hear the advice (sound advice I might add) that a writer must open with a strong first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter. And we know that a query letter without that dynamic opening line will take us nowhere. Same goes for a synopsis.

We must grab and taunt the reader, feeding them a hunger they didn't know they had. Same goes for music. 

Have you ever listened to a song that started out with backstory?

"Um, yeah, I'd love to tell you the pain I'm feeling right now so you can make a connection with me, but first I must share with you how I loved picking berries when I was a kid and chucking them at passing cars. Oh, and I forgot to tell you that I hate the color purple because old farmer George down the road used to own a mean dog named purple. That dog freaked me out!"

Sure, the latter might be a funny attribute to your MC but only if it adds to the story. Here, I don't believe it does anything.

What about a laundry list of characters?

"Thelma and I went to Jimmy's farm with Rosemary, Veronica and her lame boytoy chuck, and that's where we had our fight."

Or a dream that kept going and going? Or a long passage about the weather, which had nothing to do with the message of the song itself? 

I don't think we'd keep listening, would we? Prose can be beautiful, sending us to a place we haven't been before. But each line and word should serve a purpose. Musicians have just as tough a job as writers do, and they have less words to communicate their message and "hook" the listener.

Each of us has offered up a first line from a song that drew us in. Tell us what you think.

Nikki offers:
"It's been seven hours and fifteen days, since you took your love away" (from "Nothing Compares" by Sinead O'Connor)

AE said:
Cutting Crew, Just died in your arms. "Oh I, I just died in your arms tonight."

Jessie's pick: the Righteous Brothers, You've Lost that Loving Feeling. "You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips." 

JA gave: FAITHFULLY by Journey, "Highway run into the midnight sun, Wheels go round and round, You're on my mind."

For me, it's Bryan Adams song (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, "Look into my eyes, and you will see, what, you mean to me."

I think we can see that each first line conjures a question.

AE - '...died in your arms...' How, why, and who are you?
JA - '...you're on my mind.' Why?
Me - '...what you mean to me.' What do I mean to you? Who is he talking about?
Nikki - '...seven hours and fifteen days...' Is there more significance here then said?
Jessie - '...you never close your eyes...' What is the reason, and who are you?

Can you think of a first line in a song that completely gripped you? What is it?


  1. we're on the same wavelength today. Har har. I finished a book I was planning to review yesterday where the author has the most amazing gift for rhythm in words. That was going to be part of my observation about it--the novel reads like a pop song. And here you are~

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  3. Can't thing of a particular song line ... but this is a great analogy.

  4. It's all about the hook, isn't it? Doesn't matter if it's beautiful or leaves you scratching your head.

  5. My absolute favorite is Every Breath You Take, first words the same as the title. It gets me from the first note every time I hear it, so the mood of those first words is most important hook to me somehow. Kind of like Niki with Sinead. The words have more meaning than they let on.


Breaths that matter...

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