11/17/08

So Few Lines, Too Many Words


Lately I've been working on opening lines and how to hook the reader in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence of my latest story.

I have to fight the tendency to labor endlessly over those first few paragraphs There's always that compulsion to make those opening lines just perfect. Instinctively, as a reader-turned-writer, I know the importance of a good beginning, so I sweat over mine. And, because I've worked so hard on those first several sentences, they can be the hardest to let go of if my gut instinct is telling me they need to be cut.

Revising openings is not easy, so to warm up, find a novel you enjoyed and reread its opening. Does the first sentence grab your attention? If so, put it down and pick up another book. Great beginnings are hard to come by, so it shouldn't take you long to find a novel without one.

Once you've found a good book with a less-than-great beginning, rewrite that beginning. You might do it by cutting a few paragraphs until you come to a line that makes you feel something makes you ask a question or titillates you, or you might move the last sentence of the first paragraph into top spot. Sometimes it can be that easy. The first sentence might even simply need a few words cut out to make it shorter, punchier.

After you rewrite a few others beginnings and study some openings that caught your attention, read your beginning with that critical eye you've acquired. Would it make a reader ask a compelling question? Would it make her feel something? How many sentences into the book does she have to be in order to become captivated and need to read on?

Whether you cut a sentence or a chapter or more, know that you're doing it for your own good and the good of your book. You want the first words that an editor reads to grab her attention and make her know your book is, indeed, purchase-worthy.

Here's a great opening line from Nocturne's Aftershock by Debra Cowan:

Cass Hollister's problems began the day she died.

Now doesn't that make you want to read the story to find out what is going on? It does me.
So what are some of your favorite opening lines from books you love, or even from your own work?

Kaye
PS: A big *Thank You* goes out to my friend Christina Phillips for giving me the "I Love Your Blog" award!

14 comments:

Linda Banche said...

I find the advice to "start your story in the middle" a help in creating an opening hook. When you're already in the situation, you tend to have a line that makes a good opening.

Cari Quinn said...

Interesting topic, Kaye. One of my favorite opening lines is "She woke in the body of a dead friend." - Carolina Moon, by Nora Roberts. Something about dead people makes for intriguing open lines, I guess. ;)

I struggle with openings, but rarely struggle with endings. Probably because it takes a while for me to feel like I really know my characters, so I often have to go back and rewrite the beginning a couple times.

Debs said...

Excellent advice and something that I'll do with the books on my tbr pile.

I can't think of any excellent first lines at the moment (so typical) but I know there have been some great ones.

Helen Hardt said...

Okay, here's one for you, LOL. I haven't actually read this book, but I heard about it on the Wilder loop. The author who brought it up couldn't remember the title. The first line is: "My, what a beautiful cock." And they're talking about a rooster!

Helen

Christina Phillips said...

HAHAHA!!! That made me laugh, Helen!!

Kaye, this is another great topic. I struggle endlessly with my beginnings. One of my friends regularly rewrites her first chapter 10 times or more before she's happy with it. I'll have to give your warm up method a try!

Kaye Manro said...

Linda, I know that's good advice, but I usually find it hard to do.

Cari, It's 'The Nora' who gives us openers like that. What is it about dead people anyway?

Debs, I'm working on my tbr pile too.

Oh Helen-- that is so funny! Leave it to you to come up with something like that. LOL

Yeah, Christina, I struggle with openings too. And I usually end up rewriting my beginnig paragraphs over and over.

Now here's a funny opening line I found in an old historical and it is worthy of sharing here:

'Leif smiled at the beautiful woman and dropped his balls.'
We find out later he's a juggler. But what a great eye catcher!

Thanks to everyone for sharing.

dianne said...

You always have such great informative posts, Kaye. I think opening hooks are so important. As long as they follow through with a great story too. I've read books with great openings that let me down in a few chapters. Not good.

Congrats on winning one of Christina Phillips' best blog awards!

Johnny said...

Hi Kaye, I agree with Dianne. I feel opening lines are so important but the truth is, you got to follow through with a good story too.

Good call, Christina-- Kaye's blog does rock with info.

cate said...

Okay-- I have a good opening line from a favorite book.

'Conner stood over Nathan's body with warm blood on his hands and cold hate in his heart.' From Flesh and Stone, by Vickie Taylor.

Good winning on the 'I love your blog' award, Kaye!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Kaye. This is a fab post. And I do have a favortite line from the Scottish Historical, Knight In My Bed, by SueEllen Welfonder. "Nip his flesh with white-hot pinchers... pore molten lead down his throat... Hasten his mortal exit."
And that's a cool graphic opening.

Kaye Manro said...

Thanks Dianne and Johnny! It's good to know my blog is helping others.

Good opening lines, Cate and Elizabeth!

And while we are on the subject of medieval historicals, I can't forget Michelle Willingham's catchy opening line from the 'Warrior's Touch' -- "Aileen! There's a dead man in the fields!"

Great story, and great opening.

Shelley Munro said...

I think Norah Roberts writes some great first lines. They always draw me in but I don't have any here to quote. I like dialogue as a first line opener because it throws the reader right into the action.

Christina Phillips said...

You're very welcome to the award, Kaye! And I hope you feel better soon ((Hugs))

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Great advice Kaye. I have chopped around two chapters to have the beginning start in the right place.
And also there are times I have started right in the action, where the hero and heroine meet, or re-meet. I think most of my manuscripts are a reunited story. Don't ask me why they just end up like that. lol