I’ve written before about the importance of opening lines and 12 options for opening a story or novel. Which of these would make you read the next line? If you had to choose JUST BY READING THE OPENING LINES, which book would you buy?
A. Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner.
B. I am a lawyer and I am in prison.
C. They took Mother away today
D. When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.
E. Some years in Portland, Oregon, winter is a bully, spitting sleet and spewing snow in fits and starts as it violently wrestles days from spring, claiming some archaic right to remain king of the seasons—ultimately the vain attempt of another pretender.
F. “I don’t know why we gotta sit here baking in your car in the middle of he day, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of this crummy neighborhood,” Lulu said.
G. The light of a half-moon shimmered off the restless sea like a streak of flaming mercury.
H. The rear door to St. Anthony’s church had been left open.
I. The four dead men were lined up on the living room floor of the safe house
J. He had the look of a man who was afraid that tonight would be his last on earth.
Did you guess that these are the opening lines for titles on the Best Selling Books for December 03, 2012? Does that change your evaluation of them? Match these opening lines with these top 10 bestselling adult novels.
Bestselling Titles, December 2012
- Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich
- Agenda 21 by Glenn Beck
- The Forgotten by David Baldacci
- Merry Christmas, Alex Cross by James Patterson
- The Racketeer by John Grisham
- The Last Man by Vince Flynn
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Cross Roads by Wm Paul Young
- Poseidon’s Arrow by Clive Cussler
What do you notice about these opening lines? Leave a comment: which book would you buy, if you only read the opening lines?
Answers: 1-F, 2-C, 3-J, 4-H, 5-B, 6-I, 7-A, 8-D, 9-E , 10-G
Your novel is progressing nicely and you finish a chapter. But then, the next chapter is calling and you procrastinate, you read blogs, you do laundry, you AVOID.
How can you get started on that next chapter?
Sensory details. I like to imagine where my character is in the next chapter, then close my eyes, put myself there and try to imagine all the things the character might see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Then, I push hard to find an interesting detail and I start writing there. The danger is that you might start with too much description. That’s OK, you can take care of that during revision. The goal here is to get started.
Action. Alternately, starting with a great verb can help jumpstart the story. Think beyond the usual: walk, run, turn head, whirl. Instead, go for something distinctive: salute, pirouette, regurgitate. (Please, avoid those pesky adverbs, which add so little. Not walked lazily. But strolled.) Get your character in motion and keep him/her in motion for a page or so, and you’ll figure out where to go next.
Dialogue. One of my favorite openings to a novel is Tom Sawyer, which opens with his aunt calling: “Tom!”
When in doubt, begin a new chapter with a bit of dialogue. Keep it going for about ten exchanges and then move on.
Dead End Ways to Start a Chapter
On the other hand, there are some dead-end ways to start chapters:
Waking up. Rarely does it work to have a character start a chapter in bed, then wake up. Boring. (OK. Prove me wrong! As long as it gets you going on a new chapter.)
Backstory. Long explanations of a character’s history rarely excite the reader either. We don’t need to know about Mary’s uncle’s horse and how it escaped and caused Mary to jump into a ditch where she broke her leg. Instead, show-don’t-tell how she is dealing with that broken leg. Past action is boring; current action is exciting.
Dull vocabulary. If there’s ever a place for brilliance of voice, phrasing, interesting vocabulary, it’s the opening of a chapter. Here is where you want to catch a reader’s attention. No, you don’t want it to be so overblown that it is out of character with the rest of the story; however, you do want it to catch a reader. And, the beauty is that if you do overwrite, it’s just a first draft.
These are ideas to help you get something—anything—on paper. There’s plenty of time for revision. But that first draft has to get written, one chapter at a time. Stop procrastinating. Write!
"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
"Now is the winter of our discontent."
"Call me Ishmael."
Novelists strive to capture a reader's attention from the first word or opening line. Overall, writers work toward creating the perfect opening scene with enough intrigue to draw the reader into the storyline.
But what happens when the reader flips each page, develops a sense of empathy with the hero or heroine, struggles through the nail-biting conflict leading to a satisfying conclusion only to find themselves unfulfilled?
An impractical or bland ending will leave readers wondering why they invested quality reading time in a novel that failed to gratify. And worse yet, those readers may not endorse a book. While the situation may not seem terrible, writers need to remember that a reader's positive review to a fellow reader, a book club member, librarian, a book blog readership will ultimately increase sales.
What's a reader to do or not to do? Keep these trusted tips in mind when you're writing those last lines:
- Do foreshadow the conclusion by using your imagination and sharing that insight early in the story. A surprise ending will work if it's plausible.
- DO NOT introduce new characters in the last few pages.
- Do resolve subplots with realistic outcomes.
- DO NOT wrap up loose ends too quickly. A story must keep its natural sense of rhythm or readers will recognize the hurry-up-and-get-this-finished work.
A story's ending should be as exciting as its opening pages. It should engage the reader, keep them flipping through pages, allow for empathy, and keep her on the edge of her seat with anticipation.
If a story doesn't meet these needs at the end, even the best written story will be forgotten instead of possibly becoming a classic.
by LuAnn Schindler. Visit her website http://luannschindler.com or follow her on Twitter @luannschindler.
Sometimes when I read the opening of a manuscript, I’m totally confused.
Trying too hard to grab the reader. These openings start with something startling. OK. Nothing wrong with that, except that often the event comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. It’s only there for shock value and the reader is left wondering where we are and why we are there. And why s/he should care.
Not enough context Part of the problem is the reader isn’t oriented. Where are we? Think of time of day, time of year, geographic location, stage of a relationship.
Action/reaction sequence out of order. Finally,the events can be out of order. The normal sequence of events is action-thought/emotion-reaction. In an attempt to catch a reader’s attention, though, writers are tempted to give the reaction first.
The reader has no idea why someone screamed and in order to explain, you must backtrack. Not good.
Walking down the wooded path, Terry tripped. She screamed.
Now, the reader has the action-reaction in a clear sequence. Not confused and just as hooked. Notice that we also have a hint at setting.
If you want, you can add an emotion.
Walking down the wooded path, Terry tripped. Falling, she thought of her new ballet slippers waiting for tonight’s rehearsal. She screamed.
Now, events are in correct time sequence, we know where we are, and why we should care.
The first page is your chance to make a strong impression with your teen reader! Don’t blow it! New York Times bestselling young adult author Rachel Cohn spoke at the 2011 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day event, and shared her list of the top five things you need on page one!
The Five Things To Look For In Your Opening Page:
- This is often said to be indescribable. “I’ll know it when I read it.” Is what we hear over and over.
- Voice is the way you speak on paper.
- Write as if you are talking to a friend.
- Write honestly.
- Don’t write logically. Follow the emotion.
- Imagine a teen in your living room and you are telling them your story. How would you tell it to keep them engaged?
- Read other books! Hear other author’s voices.
- Some of Cohn’s favorite author voices are: Libba Bray, David Levithan, and Patricia McCormick.
- This is similar to tone of voice.
- It is not what is being said but how it is being said.
- This is related to the adjectives you use.
- You need to show the world your characters find themselves in.
- This doesn’t have to be epic world building like Lord of the Rings or high fantasy or dystopian.
- Worlds are smaller. Think about the world created by author Sarah Dessen as an example.
- Communicate how your world works to your reader.
- Think about how your mundane and ordinary world can be seen as extraordinary to a teen.
- Your world needs to feel like paradise before you make it feel like a prison.
4) The Plot
- Outlining is good! It’s really helpful.
- Plot is what happens in the story and the order in which it happens.
- What is in your character’s way?
- What does your character want?
- Do the situations your character gets into get in the way of what they want?
Rachel shared the first page of three young adult novels which (in her opinion) contain all five elements – Voice, Tone, World, Plot, and Conflict. Pick up these books at your library and see if you agree!
Example 1: The Hunger Games by Susan Collins
- Mention of the Reaping = Tone and Plot
- Story with the Cat = Illustrates (show not tell) the bleakness of the world.
- Establishes the protagonist is a hunter who provides for the family and is loyal.
- The line about love immediately shows tone and conflict.
Example 2: Bumped by Megan McCafferty
- We get the voice from the first line.
- We get the tone from the use of slang and the sense of darkness and mystery. Yet at the same time it’s funny.
- The prosthetic belly tells us information about the world.
- Immediate Conflict = She must get pregnant.
2 Comments on Five Things to Make Your First Page Shine!, last added: 5/26/2011