Doesn’t it seem like once you are thinking about something, it keeps popping up? For example, this past weekend I went to a writing retreat and the opening of Charlotte’s Web was brought up as an example of a great opening line: “‘Where is Papa going with that ax?’”
Then I was doing my reading for my course, the delightful essay “Twenty-First Century Revision: A Novel Approach in Three Acts with Three Points of View” by Barry Lane. In the essay, he quotes Scott Elledge’s biography of E.B. White, which offers some of White’s alternate first lines for the book.
“A barn can have a horse in it, a barn can have a cow in it.”
Or how about: “Charlotte was a big gray spider.”
The second is actually a straightforward and typical beginning of a children’s book: declarative and precise. It is also boring. As for the one about the barn, I have no idea where he was going with that.
The other two lines allow the reader to stop because they are completely contained statements of facts. But with Fern’s question, the reader is immediately drawn in. Where is he going?
Revision, folks, it’s what brought White to one of the most memorable first lines in children’s literature.