"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." George Orwell, 1984.
The novel that brought us "Big Brother," "Thought Police," and "Doublethink," opens with this disconcerting first line. Is that why it's considered famous as an opener? Because it's disconcerting? Not necessarily.
It's famous because it generates a word picture in the mind that causes the reader to start asking BIG questions:
Where? Where are we on this bright but cold April morning?
Why? Why are the clocks, all the clocks, striking thirteen?
Who? Who caused this? or
What? What caused this?
What will be done about it? Can anything be done about it? Or is this the norm?
What's going on?
If you're a typical reader, you're hooked. Your curiosity will get you reading and keep you reading until the end. All the while, you're hoping all your questions will get answered.
This is the main reason I didn't like my first line--it didn't cause the reader to ask the"Five Ws."
And so I ask the one "H":
How? How did all this start?
Rewriting Adam started with a personal encounter. I met someone that wasn't like other people I knew. That intrigued me, though not in a positive way. This person grew up in a completely dysfunctional family where mental illness reigned, causing only pain and a victim mentality. I so wanted to offer hope but didn't know how. Then, just as quickly as this person came into my life, they left. Did I leave them with any glimmer of hope?
I would write--to process, and understand, and deal with my own emotions about, and failings in, the relationship. When I wrote the first few chapters of a novel for one of my courses at Athabasca University, as a way of offering hope, my professor wanted more. And a novel was born.
I think I now have a good opening line for my novel. Time will tell. But until the final draft goes to print, I will keep asking myself the question: How did all this start?