Every story opens in its own way, with the slow lead-in or the sudden drop into action, the burst of dialogue or a detailed description of the setting. Â But when I write that first line, the very first time I open a file, and type â€œchapter one?â€ Â I always (okay, 98% of the time) start with dialogue.
â€œHi. Â Bet you didnâ€™t expect to see me here, did you?â€
My POV character takes the stage, holds forth on it, owns it as much as they can, forcing the other characters, the action, to fall in place around them. Â And in doing so, they tellÂ meÂ who they are, what they want, where we will be going. Â In those opening lines we start the conversation that will run the entire length of the book, filling in the patient space and developing the action with each comment and decision.
Sometimes â€“ not often, but enough to keep me honest â€“ I realize halfway through the first few pages that Iâ€™m talking to the wrong character. Â That this isnâ€™t their story, but someone elseâ€™s. And back we go to the first line, and see who comes out center stage. Â Sometimes â€“ also not often, but always amazing â€“ I discover that the character I thought was talking is someone else, and I only learn this byÂ listeningÂ to them, letting the voice change to fill the space they create.
And then, when weâ€™ve reached an understanding, when I know the weight and push of their voice, I can go back and change those first lines to reflect what I know about the character, and the story, now.
â€œShe stopped at the top of the stairs, fully aware that everyone could see her, although they were hidden behind the glare of the spotlights. Â She adjusted her shoulders, lifted her chin, and made sure that her voice projected clearly.Â â€Hi. Â Bet you didnâ€™t expect to see me here, did you?â€
This isnâ€™t the One True Way for everyone, of course. Â (If there was One True Way I think it should be taken out immediately and shot, because thereâ€™s no way we could get a full range of stories and styles that way). Â But if you havenâ€™t found your way yetâ€¦give it a try! Â If nothing else, youâ€™ll get a fast page of dialogue you can use laterâ€¦