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Monday, January 26, 2009

The first page, part 1 - Craft a great opening line

I’m going to be doing a series on things to look for in your first page.

Why just the first page?

Realistically, that first page is all you have. That’s what will either grab an editor or make him/her put the manuscript in the reject pile.

Editors have very little time, and they get thousands of manuscripts a year. If they’re not hooked by that first page, most will not bother to read on to the second page.

Editors just don’t have time anymore to “grow” an author and help them improve his/her writing. In past decades in publishing, an editor might contract an author with incredible potential and help them to become a better writer with successive books.

That doesn’t happen anymore. A debut author that’s contracted these days has to have very strong writing skills right off the bat—an editor will not contract a writer who’s “good but not quite there.”

It’s the same with a reader. Think of yourself in a bookstore. There are thousands of books on the shelves. How do you decide which book to spend your hard-earned money on?

Usually you’ll:

1) look at the cover, even if it’s only for a moment

2) read the back cover blurb

3) read the first page or so

If that first page doesn’t grab you, how likely are you to read to page 2?

Craft a great opening line

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. A great opening line will hook your reader by the throat.

Every reader will at least read the first line. This is an opportunity handed to you on a plate for hooking your reader.

A reader intrigued by a great opening line is more likely to read the second page even if the rest of the first page is absolutely dreck, because they’ve been tantalized by that great opening line.

An opening line is a fast, quick way to make sure you’ve got them. If your hook is at the end of the paragraph or the end of the page rather than the first line, you run the risk of the reader not making it that far and closing the book before they hit your hook.

You don’t want to run that risk. The odds are against you, and your mission is to make that editor or reader buy your book.

So spend time on crafting a fantastic opening line. Spend LOTS of time. Brainstorm lots of ideas, run ideas by your critique partners, fill up pages of possible opening lines, read good opening lines and get ideas.

Here are some examples of good opening lines:
Scene transitions – opening hooks

Do not leave your book to open with a blah opening line. Take advantage of the fact your reader will at least read that first line.

Click here for part two.

4 comments:

  1. I did a post a while back having people cite their favorite opening lines and here's what I got:

    Stephen King's The Gunslinger...."The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed him."


    Pride and Prejudice, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

    And my first line from my latest novel, "Separated by a vast expanse from known civilization, a machine rivaling the broadest mountain in Evenspark glowed pale emerald light, illuminating the mist."

    I'd love to hear other people's first lines.

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  2. Thank you, Camy, for doing this. I really want to grow in my writing and I find your blog to be a highly valuable resource! Blessings!

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  3. Thanks, Tracy! I'm glad my blog is helpful to you!
    Camy

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  4. I'm teaching a high school class on Writing Fiction, and this week I gave them some sample opening lines. They went crazy over James Scott Bell's opening line in Try Darkness. They were all jotting down the title wanting to go buy the book.

    Here it is:

    The nun hit me in the mouth and said, “Get out of my house.”

    Jaw throbbing, I said, “I can’t believe you just did that.”

    ReplyDelete

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