Monday, March 23, 2015

In The Beginning...


        The beginning   
      

We all know that strong opening lines which hook the reader, and make him want to read more, are crucial to your novel.

New writers spend lots of time trying to create the perfect first line, one that is dramatic and meaningful. A weak opening line may just be the reason a potential fan (or agent) passes your story by. You have to nail that first sentence/paragraph!

Look at it in this way. When you are contemplating a new book, it's like the first introduction to a stranger.
There is the initial meet and greet: a handshake, what's your name, where do you live, what do you do for a living...
At this stage, you form an impression of the person. You may/may not warm to him.  
If you really "click" with this individual, then the small talk may extend to a lengthy conversation.

So how does your novel fare, in the "first meeting" department?
Consider your opening sentence. Is it equivalent to a "limp handshake" or a "firm-grip-that-grabs-attention"?
Does it have the impact of a gunshot? So that when the "smoke clears", the reader will still be engrossed in the story, with the shot reverberating in his ears? Or is it the pop of a tiny firecracker?
Is it in the category of "small talk" or "captivating conversation"?

Some writers feel that good lines matter, irrespective of where they occur in your story. As long as you have them. If the opening is unforgettable, then good and well. But it's not the end of the world if the opening doesn't shine. Do you agree?
Look at your favorite stories. Do they all begin with memorable lines? Probably not.

What are your thoughts on opening lines/paragraphs?
Want to share your favorite opening line with us?

23 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Michelle - I know the blog post title should be catchy ... and I'm sure to get on the authorial ladder we need to make sure we are catching readers' attentions ... then they'll remember us in the future. I suspect the title holds the sway ... and the starting lines lead us in ... cheers Hilary

Piper McDermot said...

Hi Michelle,

New insecure visitor here! (via Anne Allen's blog). I'm on the fence about opening lines - some of the authors and fantasy series I'm most loyal to had good ones, but not necessarily memorable. But I'd like to share an opening line that stuck in my head from the moment I picked up the book to take a peek, and it's never faded. (Acutally, it's a bit a cheat because it's two sentences, but they work in combination.)

"It was night again. The Waystone inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts."
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind.

'a silence of three parts'.... It convinced me to buy the book right then, even though I hadn't yet heard of the author. I enjoyed the book and it's follow on, because the author backed up that opening with great writing and a good story.

But even so, my all-time favourite authors don't have an opening line that I can recite from memory (except for that notorius Hobbit chap). So I guess opening lines can make a difference to a book's chances, no matter who reads it, but in the end a less than thrilling one won't harm, either.

One thing about opening lines that can put me off completely is if I get a feeling the author is trying too hard to shock or 'grab' me as a reader. Then I won't trust them.

Piper McDermot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Kay said...

Michelle, at a recent writers class, the discussion leader suggested that the first line and actually paragraph should give some clue to the ending of your story to peak the interest of the reader.

Christine Rains said...

A great first line will keep me reading, but it takes more than just that. I do try to write a good hook right off, but not all great stories need it.

Debra McKellan said...

It's up in the air for me. I try to give a book a couple of chapters before I completely give up.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I work really hard on first lines now. I think the one in my upcoming book both grabs and shows the character's attitude.

Patricia Lynne said...

I like a good opening line, but that doesn't always have to be the case. I've read stories with first pages that were blah, but I didn't stop because I wanted to read the story and was hooked by the rest.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'll keep reading past the first line and paragraph. I'm also not very good at them.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I really really think about my first lines, not just in the start of a novel but also at the start of every chapter to keep them reading.

J.L. Campbell said...

Yes a good first line is important and then a good first paragraph. I like the firm handshake analogy.

Emily R. King said...

Man, there's a lot of pressure on those first few pages. I rewrite mine a minimum of fifty times!

Emily R. King said...

Man, there's a lot of pressure on those first few pages. I rewrite mine a minimum of fifty times!

VR Barkowski said...

All first lines should ask a question that engages the reader, but I think writers, particularly new writers, spend far too much time polishing their openings at the expense of the rest of their novels. Few readers base their decision to read a book on a single line or paragraph (unless it's not to read because the writing is poor). The emphasis put on a novel's opening—particularly the movement toward action opens—is a literary agent preference that has wormed its way into our psyches.

The ONLY opening I can remember after decades of avid reading comes from Beautiful Creatures. "There were only two kinds of people in our town. 'The stupid and the stuck,' my father had affectionately classified our neighbors."

This stayed with me, not because it's a great action opening but because it perfectly captures the town I grew up in. Purely subjective. A single opening will never appeal to everyone, so it doesn't make sense to place too much import on it. An opening should ask a compelling question that fits the story. Once that's achieved, the writer should skip the hoop jumping and move on to making the rest of their novel shine.

VR Barkowski

Ann Bennett said...

Like everything in life, appearances matter. A good first line could hook a buyer or reader. So much pressure though.

Feather Stone said...

I worked on my manuscript for ten years. Being this was my first, it took a long while to gain confidence and let the creativity flow in tandem with writing class instructions. The first page drove me nearly insane. I finally came up with this: The year 2020 was one long, terrifying nightmare. The planet trembled
violently for months as if desperately trying to shed its skin. Land
masses fell into the oceans or were consumed by the water’s thirst for new
territory. Tsunamis followed the Earth’s devastating quakes, swallowing great
ships and sweeping shorelines, sucking debris and bodies into oblivion. In
one year, the world’s maps became as useless as the rudimentary drawings
of ancient explorers.

Stephsco said...

An bad or boring opening line doesn't ruin a book for me, but a memorable line sets a very good first impression. I often re-read the open first paragraph / lines a few times, especially if it's done well. In a recent writing workshop we examined a few really great openings. Even if at first seeming simple, the best openings make every line and word choice have impact. When done well, a good opening provides just enough information to get to the next line, and just enough of a reader question to compell you to find out more. Confusion = bad. Intrigue = good. Now, if only that were EASY. :)

cleemckenzie said...

I'll give a book several pages before I give up. I do love a good first line or paragraph because it sets me up for wanting to enter the story.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I belonged to a group years ago where the leader was adamant on openings. I used to think she over did it, but I know differently now. She helped me hone my skill as a storyteller.

Quanie Miller said...

It just depends on the writing for me. I've read some stellar first lines from books where the story fizzled in the middle, and some okay first lines from books that I thought were terrific.

Cathrina Constantine said...

I think a first line is very important. And then the first paragraph to hook the reader. But hopefully the rest of my story can hold up to the beginning.

Shell Flower said...

The opening line I always remember is from the Outsiders, "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house,I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home." I once asked the question to some agents on a writing conference panel and they all adamantly insisted that opening lines were VERY important. Then they started quoting their faves.

J Q Rose said...

I believe that's why the first line is called the hook. Hook that reader and reel them in to the rest of the story. Loved your handshake analogy. So true. Firm handshake indeed.