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Sunday, May 21, 2017

So, how important are opening lines?

cj Sez: I want to stress again the importance of a good, inviting opening line, opening paragraph, or opening chapter.

There’s a lot of advice that says start a story in the middle of a drama, some captivating situation. This is the hook with which a writer can snag the reader’s, or agent’s, interest.

Ken Follet, in The Pillars of the Earth, starts off with “The small boys came early to the hanging.” Wouldn’t you want to find out more?

This one from Toni Morrison’s Paradise doesn't just pull the reader in, it yanks them in:  “They shoot the white girl first.”

One of my personal favorites is from Prison Letters, Corrie ten Boom’s memoir of her time in a WWII concentration camp: “From time to time, I wrote short sketches on scraps of paper.”

In a 2013 interview with Joe Fassler, Stephen King said: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story.” He goes on to say, “For me a good opening sentence really begins with voice.” He thinks readers are drawn to the story because of the voice of the writer.

In each of the opening-line examples above, you get a good sense of the author’s voice and how the rest of the story is going to be told.

Authors know (for sure) that introductory lines are hard to write. They are also generally fluid; that is, they change as the writer gets further into the story. King, himself, said it used to take him months or even years to settle on an opening line. (I doubt it takes him years now, considering how prolific and masterful a writer he is.) He also said, “A really bad first line can convince me not to buy a book—because, god, I’ve got plenty of books already—and an unappealing style in the first moments is reason enough to scurry off.”

Wow, would I hate that. All those hours and months that turned into years wasted because I blew the first line. I try to develop first lines that fit both the story and the genre.

Here’s my first line for my romantic suspense (ala Jane Bond-style) Deadly Star:  
“I am not going to die; I am not going to die.”

And for Choosing Carter:  
Bryn McKay’s body ricocheted off the passenger door as the pickup, engine roaring, veered from one side of the Colorado mountain road to the other.

For the untitled detective mystery I’ve just finished:
            “We bury our dead alive, don’t we?”

Do you start your stories in an active scene? Or are you in narrative voice? Please make sure it’s not in backstory.

People Magazine had the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology Best Mom Ever! 101 Stories of Gratitude, Love and Wisdom on their Mother’s Day Must haves . . . and my friend and fellow Mobile Writers’ Guild author, Candice Marley Conner, has a story, “Cracks in the Clay,” in the anthology. Yay.  This anthology is not just for Mothers’ Day…a special gift for a special woman in your life for any occasion. Buy it now here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1611599547/

Got a story that would work for Chicken Soup for the Soul?  The following anthologies have approaching deadlines:
Positively Happy / May 31, 2017
My Crazy Family / June 30, 2017
Miracles and More / August 31 2017
Stories of Redemption / August 31, 2017
Christmas and Holiday Collection – 2018 / October 31 2017

For more info:

Ten Rules for Happier Living

1.) Give something away – no strings attached.
2.) Do a kindness – and forget it.
3.) Spend a few minutes with the aged – their experience is priceless guidance.
4.) Look intently into the face of a baby – and marvel.
5.) Laugh often – it is life’s lubricant.
6.) Give thanks – a thousand times a day is not enough.
7.) Pray – or you will lose your way.
8.) Work – with vim and vigor.
9.) Plan as though you will live forever – because you will.
10.) Live as though you will die tomorrow – because you will, on some tomorrow.

COMING ATTRACTIONS . . . Arriving July 10:  A new Crimson Romance bundle about athletes and the sports they love, Bodies in Motion, includes Choosing Carter (rafting and off-roading). Watch for it on Amazon.

Okay, all you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same
cj
PS:  Re the opening toon: It really is a dark and stormy night here in Mobile as I try to get this post online before the lightning storm forces me to disconnect the computer. 
Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo
California Kisses 10-book publishers bundle on Amazon 99 cents
Bad Day at Round Rock” a historical fiction short story in  The Posse, a Western anthology.  
Newsletter sign-up:   cjpetterson@gmail.com

2 comments:

  1. Such a newsy post! First lines are one of my favorite collections! Here's one of my new ones from "Two by the Sea" by Jacquelyn Mitchard.
    "So many things happen when people can't sleep." And then Mitchard proves her point in spades.

    ReplyDelete
  2. cj Sez: Thanks for adding a new opening line. I love these things.

    ReplyDelete

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