How much of your story must you know already to write its opening lines?
“I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased.”
A line like this contains so much that it is as if the whole thing has been written already. Did Dostoevsky know that? Did he know about the scene where the narrator surreptitiously bumps into his adversary on the street and then holds a grudge about it for days? Did he understand the way the phenomenon of laceration would prevail throughout? Did he know the ending would go on forever? Or consider:
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.”
An opening line like that is a gut punch. It is hard to recover from a line like that. I refused to read the rest of that essay for many years because I found its opening line so difficult. But did Camus know how the essay would go on from there when he wrote it? Did he see the man on the phone behind the glass performing his dumb show? Did he understand the central role of the phenomenon of absurdity? Did he see the ending with Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill?
It is not a mere game to ask these questions. They are serious, perhaps the most serious. For a good opening line already contains its ending within it. When one has finished the story one must be drawn inevitably back to the opening line and it must reinvent itself before your very eyes as the beginning that already foreshadowed its inevitable conclusion. But how does one write a line like that? Some opening lines, I am sure, are written very close to the end of the project. Others are the inspiration that generate their completion. What is the process that elicits an opening line?
In short, How does one start if to start is already to have finished?
I doubt if readers track stories in such ways that make this so, but I’m very interested in “What is the process that elicits an opening line?” as relates to questions of judgement/fit like Siri raises here: https://pen.org/why-one-story-and-not-another/
I think one could do a better job of fleshing out the existential neurophenomenology but a good starting place I think.