Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The First and Last Line of Your Novel

The first and last line of your novel is really the first impression and, hopefully, the lasting impression. The first line should make you say—and then what happened? And the last line should propel you to the author’s blog in search of his/her next novel.

Here are the first and last lines of my  three published novels.

New York City’s night noises seeped through the wall chinks and window: the jingle of horse harnesses, the stomping of hooves, the mournful howl of a dog, but one noise, a noise that didn’t belong, jarred Mercy awake.
 “Mistletoe,” he said, just before he made proper use of it.
From Stealing Mercy.

The Chinook wind stirred the fallen leaves and tossed them around the deserted street.
In her life-time she would never see Sid or Madeleine again, but she saw them every hour of every day in her children’s eyes.
From A Ghost of a Second Chance

Blair brought her finger down on a random word.
She’d be crazy not to.
From The Rhyme’s Library

But what about the between the first and the last lines? What happens then? What fills up all the blank pages?

And what about the gap between where we are and where we want to be? Or where we thought we’d be? Shouldn’t there be a road map somewhere that says You are currently here and here is the path that leads you to where you want to go.

Sometimes, but usually not, we can look at where we are and know where we are headed. And it’s scary to realize—This isn’t it. I thought I wanted this, but I don’t. Why did I work so hard to get here? And maybe it would be gratifying to look back at where we came from and see where we are, but for me, it’s a lot like climbing a mountain. We move minute by minute, one step at a time, with an occasional vista point that takes our breath with the view. And yet the destination still isn’t exactly clear.

I am not my mother, nor am I my mother-in-law, aunt, step-mother or any one of my sisters. My husband is not my dad, nor is he like his dad. He is nothing like his brothers and he is a very different creature from my brothers. When we were raising our children, our goals were very similar to our parents and our siblings, now that our children are raised, that really isn’t any longer true. The between from where we are and where are going is like a walk in an unknown wood. And because no one we know has actually arrived at where we want to go, we’re not sure we’ll like it once we arrive. It would be helpful if someone from the top would say, hurry up—it’s great up here. But I’m wondering where is here? And how do I hurry to an unknown place when I don’t know which road to take?

But maybe it’s like writing a novel. I write the first line, which is followed by the next, and the next and the next until I reach the end. I know the story structure. I love the characters—I’m emotionally invested in each of them. And since I believe in a loving God and a life beyond this one, I’m sure of a happy ending…so maybe all that’s between doesn't really matter so much. Maybe I’m happier walking a road, destination unknown.

The Dash
By Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who love her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard;
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

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