Friday First Lines (Volume 4)

I asked a few authors to comment on the first sentence of their book, and I got such a great response.   So good, in fact, that I’ve turned this into a little series here at Books on the Brain called Friday First Lines.  Each Friday I’ll share First Line thoughts by two or three authors.

Will these first sentences be enough to entice you to add them to your TBR list? They were for me!

The Detroit Electric SchemeAuthor D. E. Johnson writes:

First sentence: “The first part of the body I saw was half of the left arm.” D. E. Johnson, The Detroit Electric Scheme

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Somewhere I read that the first sentence of a book has to be the best thing you’ve ever written, and then every sentence after it needs to get better. I tend to agree more with the first part of that statement, particularly for first-time authors. You have to grab an agent or editor’s attention, because, sadly, when they pick up your manuscript, most are looking for a reason to toss it, not a reason to love it. If you don’t grab their attention and then hold it, you’re DOA.

That’s why the first line of my first book was, “The first part of the body I saw was half of the left arm.” I figured people would want to know more. (At least people as warped as I am.) As I recall, I didn’t change it much from first conception, though the first scene was rewritten at least fifty times. If you can get that professional to read through your entire first scene without gagging, you’ve got a shot. If you can keep the serious clunkers out of the first half of the book, you’ve got a better shot.

You can write the most brilliant book in history, but if the first sentence is a snoozer, it’s unlikely anyone will ever know about it.

Telling the BeesAuthor Peggy Hesketh writes:

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First sentence:  The bees travel along the high-tension wires, just as surely as one true sentence follows the next.  I am not sure why the bees took to this peculiar mode of travel, but I suspect they have their reasons, and their reasons have everything to do with the Bee Ladies’ murder.”  Peggy Hesketh, Telling the Bees
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Funny.  I’m just about to head to the creative writing class I teach in Laguna Beach, CA and the subject of the class tonight is openings.  I’d planned to do a presentation on opening sentences and then have them critique each others.
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I can tell you that most authors I know make it a point to make their first sentence memorable.  It should not only “suck” the reader in, but it should start to set up what is going to be at stake in the novel.
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The first sentence of my novel came to me unbidden, and though I’ve made lots and lots of revisions to my novel, that first sentence stuck.
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In fact, the first paragraph has remained virtually unchanged since the beginning.
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For more info on TELLING THE BEES  visit Peggy’s website: peggyhesketh.com

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors Amy Shearn (The Mermaid of Brooklyn) and Jael McHenry (The Kitchen Daughter).

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2 Responses

  1. Even a writer who prefers understated prose will still try to write an attention-grabbing opener. Terrific feature, Lisa! I’d read both of these based on the beginnings.

  2. Love both of these first sentences – they would definitely convince me to read on. It’s interesting that both of these authors, although they changed a lot of things in the rest of their books, didn’t change their first sentences.

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