Show the other night. Oh my goodness – stirred a strange sensation in my stomach!
Once upon a time I interviewed “her” while working as a BBC TV presenter. What an experience. Technically I was
the one doing the interview but dear Edna had done her research and seemed to know as much about me as I did about “her”.
By the time she was asking after my family and home life in alarming detail, there was real sweat on my brow. Where would this go next? How MUCH did she know about me. Beam me up!
If anyone reading this knows the glamorous Dame Edna, please be reassured that – cross my
gladioli - I am a big fan – but there is no question in any TV studio, who has the upper hand. Respect!
All of which points neatly to the subject I was planning to write about this week. Opening lines.
Throughout all my years as a journalist, whether interviewing a TV icon or someone “ordinary” with an
extraordinary story to share, I always wait for what I can only describe as “the moment”. It is that special awareness that you have hit upon the opening to your written feature or the sound clip for telly.
News coverage is very different, of course, because you are looking more simply for the strongest and most current line but with features and lifestyle writing or filming, it is that special hook you are after. The
unusual. The offbeat.
And you will guess now where I am going with this because it is precisely the same in fiction. We all know that openings – for both short stories and novels - need to engage immediately. To pull the reader right in. We are told this over and over but I wonder if we always listen quite in the way that we should.
It doesn’t mean, please note, that we should panic. Drive ourselves to writer’s block. Chances are there are a
million options for a first line so try one for size - aware that you can always change it ( and will probably want to). The crucial point is to recognise its importance but not to let that paralyse you.
For myself – when writing features, I admit to relaxing inwardly when I hit upon the“moment”. The ping in my brain as I clock my opening line – but I don’t allow that to distract me from the interview as a whole. I just have faith that the“moment” will come at some point. It may be at the beginning of the interview….or it may be the very reason the guest has to end the interview early – “sorry, just got to tend my competition marrow. Judging is Saturday…” Ping!
And if I were writing a feature right now on that interview with Dame Edna?
“I began to sweat when Dame Edna asked after my dog…..by name."
You get the drift…