One thing we like to do in my book club is to take an annual quiz at our year-end party. I list the first and last sentence of each book we’ve read over the year, mix them up and see who is able to match them with the correct books. (Oh, I know what you’re thinking – “Whoa! They are so crazy!” I know, I know, we really know how to party!) ANYway, for some this challenge is simple, but for others, not so much. Either way, it’s fun looking back over the list and sharing our thoughts on why authors chose to open (and conclude) their books the way they did.
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’m turning 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!
And then there was the heat. Driving Alone, Kevin Lynn Helmick, 2012
It’s been over a year now since I wrote that line so I’ll do my best to remember how it got there. I’m pretty sure I added it sooner rather than later, but once I did I really didn’t have any doubts about it. It just worked, for me anyway. It could have even worked as a title or last line. It’s simple, yet suggestive enough to be complex, and I’m a big fan of sentences like that. I don’t think I changed it at all once it was down. I think it just came up without too much thought, but looking at it now, And there was, is probably from the Bible, not that I’m all into the Bible, but It looks Biblical to me now, in foreboding sort of way.
First lines, are they important? I suppose if you come to the page with any kind of idea that what you’re doing is important, then that’s a good place to start, followed by the second line, and third, and so on. I can only speak for myself, and I see the first line as an invitation, a promise, it’s me saying, ‘come with me, I wanna tell ya something. It’s fun in here, interesting at least, and worth your time. I Promise.”
I think your first line should raise an eyebrow. It should be memorable, but not flashy or show-offy. I usually spend quite a bit of time writing and re-writing that opening, first act, scene one, and I probably did on this book too, but not the first line. That was set in stone, and everything else kind of hung from it. I’ve written worse sentences, I’m sure, and I don’t have any writer’s remorse over that one.
The first sentence of my novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR (NAL/Penguin), is as follows:
The little girl was breathless with excitement as she pushed through the fence of hedges toward the water’s edge, skinny freckled legs and lopsided red pigtails spinning in opposition as they disappeared into the fog.
First sentences are such tricky things! I know as a reader, I always “taste” a novel by reading that first sentence or that first paragraph, so there’s no question to me that it has to draw a reader in. That said, I will often change my first sentence all the way up until the final draft (or maybe even later), simply because it may take me writing (and rewriting) the whole novel to really know what I want that first “taste” to be, what flavor I want that first sentence to have. In the case of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, which centers around a town celebrating its annual Mermaid Festival and the relationships that blossom because of it, I wanted to establish the setting right away, to let the reader know that they too were about to be swept up in the excitement and magic and romance of the impending festival, just like the little red-haired girl.