“There are a lot of good first lines. Line 1,157? Not so much.”
I saw this tweet — or something like it — recently, and it got me thinking. (I believe it came from Don Maas, but don’t hold me to it. My Twitter feed is large and growing bigger everyday.)
No doubt about it, first lines are important. People with a lot more expertise than I have will tell you how that first sentence hooks readers, sets the tone and imparts just enough detail to make everyone want more.
A few great first lines from pubbed authors (interspersed with some faves from my own writing):
— “At precisely one o’clock on a sunny September Saturday afternoon, Megan McGuire spied the pirate.” (“Dreaming of Home,” Glynna Kaye)
— “Meg Malone’s day began a slow, downward slide at 7:42 a.m., the precise moment she squinted down at the pregnancy test stick in her hand, hoping like hell she’d misread it.” (My 2011 Golden Heart finaling MS, “Beauty and the Ballplayer”)
— “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” (“Gone with the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell)
— “There was no way around it. Catching Mr. right was damn hard work.” (“On the Fence,” Keri Ford)
— “Bethany Lincoln scowled at the now-dark cell phone in her hand, missing the good old days when she could slam the receiver down in disgust.” (My WIP “Trouble in Paradise?”)
— “‘Here in Porcupine, some folks have sex just to keep warm.'” (“Nerd Gone Wild, Vicki Lewis Thompson)
— “Heaven — in the form of a cozy birthday dinner for two, followed by some dancing and a little naughty sex — would just have to wait.” (My first finished MS, “Operation Snag
— “The best thing about being a werewolf was that you never needed a sports bra.” (“The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf, Molly Harper)
Great stuff, right?
The trick, of course, is making our prose sparkle all the way through. Line 1,157 is seldom as catchy, punchy and witty as line one.
But why is that?
I suspect familiarity breeds … maybe not contempt, but boredom. As the story unfolds beyond the first pages, the rosy blush is gone. We’ve seen the hero and heroine at their worst … caught them with their pants down (both figuratively and literally, most likely.)
Don’t ask me how to overcome the phenomenon. I’ve noticed in my current WIP that, while I love the first several chapters, I’m beginning to feel like I’m slogging along. I must be in the dreaded sagging middle.
Any of you with advice, feel free to leave it in the comments. I’ll take all the tips I can get.
Can’t get enough great first lines? Hop on over to the Starcatchers’ blog, where I asked my Starcatcher sistren to share some of their favorites.
It’s my day off and I’m in Sedona. While the Boyfriend was playing tennis this morning, I hit Starbucks to sneak in some writing time.
I ended up doing more blogging than writing, but I still appreciated what the barista wrote on my cup. At least I’m not the only one who calls me a writer!
Yes, it pays to be a semi-regular.
About that blogging: I have a very cool post planned for Wednesday — one that coincides with a related post on the new Starcatchers blog. Be sure to stop back by.
Today, we’re going to delve into all your dirty little secrets — reading secrets, that is.
When Gwen Hernandez, one of my Starcatcher sisters, posted about sometimes not finishing a book she’s started, it got me thinking.
Her argument against slogging through something she’s not into:
Why waste valuable hours reading a book I don’t enjoy?
It makes complete sense. As we all know, there are only so many hours in the day. When we’re trying to write, work out, cook, tend to the day job — and families if we have them — it leaves precious little leisure time for reading.
Yet I’m one of those people who slogs through every book I start. It may take me a while to pull it off my TBR pile, but once I have a book in my hand, I finish the darn thing. Even if it takes me a month … or I’d rather be visiting the dentist than reading it …
I’m not sure where this attitude comes from. Maybe it’s a remnant from my college days, when reading was my job. As a journalism major who took a lot of English lit and creative writing classes, I read tons. Even the semester I spent in England, when I probably should have been focused on exploring a foreign country, I took a full course load that included French lit, Literature and Politics, and Shakespeare. (I couldn’t pass up the chance to take a class on Shakespeare in England, from a British prof, now could I?)
Maybe it’s just what I refer to as my good, old-fashioned Midwestern work ethic. I also can’t call in sick when I’m not really sick. Heck, I work even when I’m sick … I have to be in bed, unable to move, before I throw in the towel and take a sick day.
Whatever the reason, I finish the books I start. It’s a good thing, then, that I tend to only start books I know I’ll enjoy. I usually stick with contemporary and historical romances, with the occasional weighty book club pick.
Hmm. Now that I think about it, I can’t say I always finish the books I start. Sometimes I don’t finish my book club selections. Case in point: “Edgar Sawtelle.” I don’t care if it was one of Oprah’s picks, I didn’t like it. Too lyrical— and it was obviously heading toward a bad end, seeing as it was a modern retelling of “Hamlet” (one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, by the way.) Trudy and Claude? Please.
How about you? Do you finish the books you start? Or do you refuse to waste time on books that don’t hold your interest?
I want to know!
Sometimes you just need to retreat.
No, I’m not talking about the kind of retreat where you curl up in a ball and hide from the world because rejection number three thousand five hundred and ninety-nine has just found its way to your inbox.
I’m talking about the “lock yourself away and write until your fingers fall off” variety.
That’s the kind of retreat I’ve been blessed to undertake for the last several days while on vacation from the day job.
Okay, I still have all ten fingers … nine of my toes, too. The tenth is numb after its run-in with my exercise bike. Being the klutz I am, I kicked the dumb thing while I was walking around.
Having been at my office for 10-plus years, I get a ridiculous amount of vacation to burn off every year (four weeks) — and this summer, I have to take it before our staff goes down in number. (One of my fellow page designers is leaving at the end of the month.)
So I’m off work for two whole weeks and the Boyfriend is out of town. He took his kids to California to see where he grew up.
What’s a pre-published author to do with all that free time? Write, of course.
One day, I poured out 3,500 words of my WIP (the one connected to “Beauty and the Ballplayer.”) Another day saw a word count of 2,ooo. The other two days were 800 and 1,100 — and that’s with breaks for movies. (Being a comedy fan, I went to see “Bad Teacher” one night and “Friends with Benefits” another afternoon.)
Even today, with grocery shopping and softball practice, I’ve written about 700 words — and reached a turning point. In fact, I’m going to get back to it now. See you on the other side … hopefully with a fully finished first draft.