Saturday, September 25, 2010

First Lines

There you are sitting at your desk in front of your computer, staring at the blank, stark white screen before you. Finally you lift your fingers to the keyboard and type in your name, address, and email address in the upper left hand corner, single spaced. You come down the page, type the title and your name. Then you move to the next page and type CHAPTER ONE.

Again there is a long pause as you contemplate the first line to your story. You see your heroine in your mind. What is she doing? Where is she?

You type a sentence, erase it, and begin again. You know it has to draw the reader in, make them want to keep reading. This first line is crucial. It has to motivate the reader to read on.

Most people will tell you when they are in the bookstore and they are searching for something great to read, they first look at the cover, then the back cover blurb, then they read the first line. Covers by their beauty can capture the readers imagination, and the back cover blurb give them a little taste of what the book is about. But that first line or two will be what cinches a sale. If it is dull, if it doesn't give the reader a strong visual image, they will like put it back on the shelf.

So how does a writer come up with a great first line? Here are some tips.

1. As you begin, close your eyes and visualize your character, where they are, and what they are doing. Write what you see in your mind's eye.

2. Use strong verbs to bring out the action.

3. Do not write a rambling sentence that goes on and on.

4. Go back later and read your first line, and ask yourself would you buy this book.

If you want your reader to be emotionally involved in your character, the opening lines are the key because it is the introduction between your heroine and your reader.

Here are a few first lines from the Daughters of the Potomac Series I am writing for Abingdon Press. Which make you want to keep reading and why? Which do not?

From 'Beyond the Scarlet Dawn', Book 1.
Eliza Bloome woke from the tattered high-backed chair when the front door downstairs slammed shut.

From 'Beside Two Rivers', Book 2

It had been her favorite place to retreat since she was nine, when she had discovered it one summer twilight while trekking with her cousins over the ridge that shadowed the Potomac.

From 'Beyond the Valley', Book 2

Sarah Carr would never look at the moon in the same way again.

Do you have a first line you'd like to share? Post it in the comments. Comment to some of the others poster's lines. Let us know, if you'd buy this book.


Jan Cline said...

All three are wonderful. I think this is something that challenges me...but Im getting better. Here is the first two lines of my new WIP:

"The white sheet creased a silhouette of Mrs. Benson’s form. Sister Clatilda pulled Martha by her arm, guiding her away from the hospital bed."

I'll probably change it again, but that's it for now.

Rita Gerlach said...

That's good. But you may try something like...

Guided away from the hospital bed, Martha looked back at the body of Mrs. Benson covered in a white sheet.

Think of the senses.
What does Martha feel? Grief or relief?

How does the nun's hand feel on her arm? Cold and clammy or warm and gentle. I like cold and clammy for a death scene.

What does she smell. The intrusive, nauseating smell of alcohol and medicine combined?

You might mention who Mrs. Benson is right off. Say she is Martha's aunt. You could say,
Guided away from the hospital bed, Martha looked back at the body of her aunt covered in a white sheet.

These are just suggestions. You are doing great. I don't mean to change your writing. It's the way my mind works whenever I read.

Jan Cline said...

Cool. I love suggestions! I will play with those and see what happens. Thanks!
Have a great week.

Bonnie Toews said...

I think the opening line from Book 2 is not equal to the opening lines of Books 1 and 3.

Another guidepost for an opening line is the cynical, "Who cares?"

Since you want the reader to care, you need to set the scene simply and directly. Eg. "It was her favorite place to retreat." Immediately your readers want to know who, why, where. You've hooked them. Now develop your second second with more info.

Here's my opening lines from Books 2 and 3. See what you think.

Rhys Jamieson froze.

“Halt. Wer geht dort?”

Melissa K Norris said...

My favorite is the opening line for Book 3. I also liked the change suggested by Bonnie for Book 2. I struggle with the first line. I can't go on until it's perfect.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rita -

I liked the third example best. It aroused my curiosity.

The first line of my book, "The Moses Conspiracy," is: "The last thing she needed was to lose her way in Washington, D.C."

Susan :)

Rita Gerlach said...

Thanks, ladies, for the comments. Yes, I like Bonnie's suggestion for book 2 and I'm going to use it.

Jan, I owe you an email response and will get to that today.