Skip over navigation

National Novel Writing Month Starts TODAY!

National Novel Writing Month Starts TODAY!

By Melissa Albert

"It was a dark and stormy night. 'Pass the potato chips,' Angela said in an ominous voice, winking sadly. Suddenly, there was a spooky knocking at the door!"

Oops, sorry. I mistook this post for my NaNo doc. Because TODAY IT BEGINS!

What's yours going to be about? Whether you're a planner or a pantser, you probably have some idea. Right? RIGHT?! So far I've decided mine will include a magic shop, a disappeared uncle, a girl with prophetic dreams, and a lightning storm on, oh, the third page. (Come find me on the NaNo site!)

In case you're freaking out, with no idea what to write about or how to begin, consider starting with a haunted object, a carnival coming to town, an unexpected package, a person who should be careful what they wish for, an abrupt change of fortune, a clock that freezes at midnight, a love interest who isn’t who they say they are, a phone call that comes in the middle of the night, a cat who isn't a cat, or a door that wasn't there yesterday.

Once you’ve got a plot (or the seed of a plot), it’s time to put down that very first line. A blank page can be intimidating, but all sorts of greatness can flow from a killer opening line. If your brain keeps saying, “Why are we writing? I want taaacoooos,” show it that it’s wrong about you by writing a NaNo opening that it can’t help but be impressed by. Here are a few tried-and-true ways to approach that all-important first line:

Start in the middle of the story. "Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove her car off a bridge.”–The Blind Assassin

Set the scene in 10 words or less. "It was a dark and stormy night." –A Wrinkle in Time

Start with a moment of peril!...then back up. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” –One Hundred Years of Solitude

Don't be fancy, just introduce your narrator. “Call me Ishmael.” –Moby Dick

Stealthily introduce a universe unlike our own. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” –1984

Don’t be shy: talk up your tale. “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” The Good Soldier

Start with an intriguing declaration. “I am a coward.” –Code Name Verity

Change the rules. “All children, except one, grow up.” –Peter Pan

Now go forth! Change the world (or at least get your mind off tacos) by writing an amazing, intriguing start to your NaNo novel. And remember the immortal first words of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five: “All this happened, more or less.” Because dang, is that ever a great first line.

Are you starting your novel today? If you're feeling brave, share your first line!

Topics: Books, Life
Tags: writing, books, books we love, nanowrimo, authors we love, first lines

Write your own comment!


Write your own comment!


About the Author
Melissa Albert

Melissa Albert reads books, worries about other people’s dogs (they look thirsty), and eats horrible candy for fun and profit. When not wearing her extremely tasteful Sparkitor hat, she’s an editor for the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. You can find her on Twitter @mimi_albert, or in the hot pretzel section of your local cafeteria.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.