My latest class was focused on first lines and what to include in an opening. How many details do you need to let the reader know who is there and where "there" is, without bogging down your opening so there's no action or emotion or drama to draw in your reader? It's a fine balance and one that few writers get right on the first draft. That's why it's called the first draft.
What does this mean for the person sitting down to start writing something new? Honestly, not much. The most important thing about writing is that you write - don't sit there and fret about drawing up the perfect opening line. Just let the words flow. Approach your opening with an open mind. Eventually, your first line will come out.
That's what one student learned as we read samples of our openings. Her first line was actually about 3 or 4 paragraphs into the story. That's not so bad. Some writers have to chop off pages of prose to uncover their first lines. It's not easy. You developed a connection with those words, they were there for you when it was just you and a blank screen. How can you turn your back on them now?
Cutting chunks of writing from your work might be gentler if you don't trash them, but set them aside. Create an entirely new document of "cuts" that you can use as a reference. It can be handy for later in the story when you realize it's time for that information, or when you're blocked and need some stimulation, or as story starters for a different piece, or (my favorite) as a reminder of the junk that you create in a first draft and why editing is so important.
While you're still uncovering your first line, I thought I'd share some of my favorites:
"It's the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache."
-Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
"We went to the moon to fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
-Feed by M.T. Anderson
"I'm a sweating fat kid standing on the edge of the subway platform staring at the tracks."
-Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
"I knew today would be ugly."
-Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
What's your favorite opening line?