Her topic today is timely, because it deals with how to make an impression with our writing, especially if we’re not published.
I contend that we do the same thing with books. Maybe we first fall in love with the cover, sometimes it’s the back cover blurb (I no longer trust those blurbs – fodder for another blog), but often it’s the first line. As an author, I have no control over the cover, very limited influence over the blurb, but the first line – yeah, that’s all me.
The first line can lead to love at first read. For an unpublished author, that first line might be the difference between getting a manuscript read by an industry professional, or not. It sets the tone, and expectations, for the rest of the book. A good first line can hook a reader and, if the book holds true to the promise of the first line, a fan.
So I’ve been looking at first lines and here’s what I’ve found. You can often tell the gendre of a book by its first line. Big whoop, you might say. You can tell the gendre by the cover. A hunky chest and a wolf most likely means a shape-shifter paranormal, not an historical. However, if you’re unpublished, you don’t have the benefit of a cover.
But if you have a first line like these, the reader/editor/agent knows immediately this is a paranormal.
“Every night, death came slowly, painfully, and every morning Maddox awoke in bed, knowing he’d have to die again later.” Gena Showalter, THE DARKEST NIGHT
“My name is Kate Connor, and I used to be a Demon Hunter.” Julie Kenner, CARPE DEMON
How about mystery/suspense? I’ve noticed that when I ask readers for their favorite first lines, the mystery/suspense ones often foreshadow a dead body will soon make an appearance. Try these:
“Death was not taking a holiday. New York may have been decked out in its glitter and glamour, madly festooned in December 2059, but Santa Claus was dead. And a couple of his elves weren’t looking so good.” J.D. Robb, MEMORY IN DEATH
“My teacher always told me that in order to save a patient you’d have to kill him first. Not the most child-friendly way of explaining his theory of book restoration to his eight-year-old apprentice, but it worked. I grew up determined to save them all.” Kate Carlisle, HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER (This debut went to straight to the New York Times extended list.)
Here’s a couple of favorite first lines from historicals. Notice the lyrical structure and a quick reference to something from a period. Clues that say “this is an historical”.
“Dangling a man upside down by the ankles outside a London ballroom was not how Maxwell Brooke had anticipated spending his first Thursday night as the Duke of Lyle.” Christine Wells, THE DANGEROUS DUKE
“Ice hung from windowsills with a glitter that rivaled glass, and new snow turned sooty streets to rivers of milk. Looking at the city from the bell tower of Saint Germain, the Duke of Fletcher could see candles flaring in store windows, and though he couldn’t smell roasting goose, holly leaves and gleaming berries over doors signaled that all of Paris had turned its mind toward a delicious banquet of gingerbread and spice, of rich wine and sugared cakes.” Eloisa James AN AFFAIR BEFORE CHRISTMAS
And I couldn’t help including one of my own. This from my latest:
“With all the malice she could muster, Francesca Winthrop whacked the wooden croquet ball beneath her foot, sending her mother’s ball careening across the manicured lawn, over the edge of the Newport cliffs, and possibly into the blue gray waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Pity, it wasn’t her mother’s head.” Donna MacMeans, THE SEDUCTION OF A DUKE.
Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite first lines? Help me add to my list. One comment will receive a copy of THE SEDUCTION OF A DUKE.
William Chambers, Duke of Bedford, ascended to the title upon his father's death, but he also inherited his father's extensive debts. Desperate to avoid scandal and ruin, he is willing to go to any lengths—including marrying, sight unseen, a reclusive American heiress known as Frosty Franny.
Not pleased to be trapped in an arranged marriage, Francesca Winthrop conspires to turn lemons into lemonade with the assistance of a courtesan's journal.
In addition to Romance Writers of America, I'm a member and officer (you guessed it - Treasurer) of Central Ohio Fiction Writers. I also belong to The Golden Network, a chapter of Golden Heart Finalists, and Scriptscene, a chapter for scriptwriters. Hey - you never know when Hollywood will come knocking.