Scarlett Archer on first lines

1,001 First Lines is a collection of classic first lines, grouped by genre. I don’t always agree with the classifications used (I wouldn’t put Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland under comedy, for example), but that’s to be expected: I don’t think any two people are in complete agreement on genre boundaries. (Watch for my new blog series on Defining the Genres for more outspoken opinions on this.)

I noticed two things while reading through the accumulated openings. What I mostly noticed is that there is no one-size-fits-all, even in a given category. First lines can be short, long, filled with punctuation, or as plain as Dick and Jane. The second thing is that there are excellent openings to books I didn’t like (Bridge to Terabithia) and mundane openings to books I loved (Storm Front).

I take it back: there is third thing I noticed. There are some books out there with kick-ass first lines in genres I read that, somehow, I haven’t picked up yet. My TBR (to be read) pile just got much larger. (It was already too large, but such is the life of a reader.) The Next Thing I Knew, for example, has a first line that begs me to keep reading (“Life pulled the plug on humans at two on a Sunday afternoon.”). There are authors here whose works I’ve been meaning to get to but hadn’t yet where reading their first lines makes me wonder why they haven’t been higher priority.

I love that in choosing the first lines, Archer would choose some that went together — The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Houdini Heart by Ki Longfellow, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and The Divine Comedy by Dante. Even more, I appreciated that she didn’t set these side by side, one following the next in an obvious juxtaposition, but left them separated by a page or more, a joke to be recognized and shared by the reader without overt signaling.

There is something in this book for everyone, including a checklist at the end to keep track of what one has read. It’s not likely that I will ever read all of these books, but I’m happy to say I’ve read a fair number already and fully intend to read more — some of which I might not have considered without the first lines’ inclusion here.

Definitely a fun read!


Q: You’ve published 1,001 First Lines, and I see you’re working on 1,001 Last Lines. How much weight do you give to first versus last lines in your own fiction?

A: I find first lines hold much more importance than last because it’s an element that can make or break the deal between you and the reader. If they put it down then there’s no need for the rest of the story. I know that is an extreme example and I know it’s not applicable to a lot of readers. They give a book more of a chance than I do, but if it just doesn’t grab me in the first page then a most times I put it down. It means I probably don’t get to experience a lot of great fiction! But each to their own.

Q: You wrote A Slave to Karma in 2010, and according to your site, you’re working your way through drafts of it right now. I really want to see how Beth and Leo work things out. When is that going to be available? And do you have any intention of writing another romance along these lines?

A: I’m hoping by mid year but with working full time who can guess? I initially wrote A Slave to Karma as a break from the more serious stuff but I’ve found I really enjoy a bit of fun rom com. So I hope to be writing more down the track! 

Q: Next up for you in the fiction line, I see, is a Wizard of Oz retelling. Do you have a first line for it yet, and if so, are you willing to share?

A: I’m deep in the research/outlining stages right now. The scenes are coming together and I’ve been doing a lot of study on the Hero’s Journey so that I commit faithfully to the structure of the original Wizard of Oz. I do have a first line but it’s not the one that will be there when the novel is finished so no sharing today! 

Q: On your Website, you have a number of other novels listed on your Work page. What’s the status of these? Are you revising them, submitting them to publishers, or planning to put them up for sale yourself? Or are some of them just learning experiences?

A: These novels are from my teen years, my early twenties, they’re nano novels and not nano novels! Some have something worthy about them, and others have something terrible about them that will never see the light of day. I have a collection of pirate novels, and it’s a five book series (actually only two out of the five have pirates in them) and I would love to return back to those and work on them and then publish them. In this past year I’ve felt I’ve grown in leaps and bounds in my knowledge of writing, story structure and experience, so returning to old stories and immediately being able to identify the problems and plot holes really gives me a boost of confidence.

Q: How do you divide your work between writing and design? Is it evenly split, or does one take precedence? Does it vary with time?

A: When I decided to become a graphic designer back in 05 I knew my writing would have to take a back seat. It has done so to such an extent that it breaks my heart when I think about it. It’s only in the last year I’ve given myself time away from my business to enjoy writing again. Writing is in my blood and so spending months and years feeling too exhausted to do anything or just not having the time can really hurt your soul. 

My new years resolution this year was to stop working weekends! I’m hoping this will make a dramatic change to my writing schedule and mean I can give more time to my one true love- writing.

Q: Any final thoughts or a take-home message you want to share?

A: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed on your blog! It was an honour 🙂

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