Friday First Lines (volume 6)

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 Night Rainbow USAuthor Claire King writes:

“Maman’s belly is at the stove, her bottom squeezed up against the table where we are colouring.”  Claire King, The Night Rainbow

As a reader I expect a lot from the opening sentence. Like the opening bars of a song, it’s the signature of the story, more so than the ending. When you meet someone, your first impression is often visual, but when you meet a new narrator it’s the first thing they say and how they say it. So as a writer, in both short stories and in novels, I feel I owe the reader an engaging start.

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I can’t write the first sentence of any story until I am almost finished. The narrator must have found her voice, and I need to be clear where the story ends to know how it must begin. In the opening of The Night Rainbow I wanted the reader to meet Pea – the narrator – and her sister, to understand that they are children, and to know what is troubling Pea most. It took me three sentences to set that out, but the first sentence goes a long way towards it, and the first word of all is the biggest clue: Maman.

DownloadedFile-3Author Amy Sue Nathan writes:

“Evie picked up a small, silver-framed photo and wiped away invisible dust. ” Amy Sue Nathan, THE GLASS WIVES – A Novel

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I love that you asked about the first line, Lisa. I haven’t thought about that in ages even though I’ve read it a gazillion times. Actually, the first few paragraphs, including the first line, were some of the final things to change in The Glass Wives. The first line had been the same through all my querying, submissions, and editing. My first line had won contests. And then my editor asked me to change it. I was dumbfounded until she explained that while it was pithy—it kind of pushed the reader into the story full force, instead of luring or leading the reader into the story.  And then I got it. It took me two days to rewrite the page. I actually pinched a scene from later in the book and made it fit into the beginning. My editor was right and subsequent readers really liked the new opening better than the first one.
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For me the lesson was to always remember that readers come to a book openminded, but still with their own memories and preconceived notions. An author doesn’t usually want to do something that could make someone not want to continue reading, especially not on page one!  While I’m not sure the old first line would have been a deterrent, this one much more fits the tone and nature of The Glass Wives.
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I hope it makes you wonder what’s next!
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Come back next week for First Line thoughts from 
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3 Responses

  1. Oh, how I love these posts! Such different things from each author go into writing that first line, and I particularly love this set because both of them are so different. One starts the first line last, and one lets the first line be changed. I am now really intrigued by both of these, and going to look them up. Good thing it is a shopping day!! Excellent post today :)

  2. I find it fascinating at how these authors’ attitudes vary from one to another. Just like some write their books in longhand, some on computer, some in a dark room, others by an open window. Refreshing!

  3. Giving a reader an “engaging start” is definitely important! This is another interesting post on the mechanics of writing.

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