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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Friday First Lines (volume 5)

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!

51Q75yJdtTL._SY300_Author Amy Shearn writes:

Before I died the first time, my husband left me broke and alone with our two tiny children and it made me feel very depressed, etc.”  Amy Shearn, The Mermaid of Brooklyn

I thought about this book for a long time in an inchoate way before I actually started writing. But when I did sit down and begin – boom – there was the first sentence. This sentence made everything about the book possible for me. It includes the three main projects of the book: the impossible and slightly magical – died the first time? – the terribleness of the mundane – husband left, broke, depressed – and to me, the “etc” makes it funny. You know immediately (I hope) that you are in the hands of an irreverent, slightly glib, possibly unreliable narrator.

This sentence is probably the only one in the book that never changed in my many revisions. I hope it sucks readers in. I love first sentences. I love first thirds of novels, actually. I just realized that about myself as a reader, that I love every first third of every novel I can remember reading. Maybe everyone’s like that. Because writing the first third of a novel well is, I think, pretty easy. It’s the ending that’s hard. But when I wrote this first sentence I also had the last sentence in mind, so that made working my way through the book vastly more doable.  I recommend that to anyone trying to write a book, and I’m including myself in that category as I embark on my next one – write the first and last sentences at the same time.

DownloadedFile-1Author Jael McHenry writes:

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“Bad things come in threes.” Jael McHenry, The Kitchen Daughter
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The first sentence of The Kitchen Daughter was always the same. I wrote it first, and despite several years of writing and rewriting that changed nearly every aspect of the book, those five words never changed.
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The sentences that come hard on the heels of that first one, just as crucial, did change slightly. When Ginny, my narrator, lists the three bad things she’s referring to, this is what she says: “My father dies. My mother dies. Then there’s the funeral.” This was always how I wanted to introduce her to the reader — someone so reserved, so uncomfortable in a crowd, that for her the funeral is a different trauma than the death that precedes it. In an earlier draft of the book with slightly different events, these sentences were “Ruben leaves me. My parents die. Then there’s the funeral.” When Ruben went (and good riddance), I wanted to keep the three-part structure for obvious reasons. And for Ginny, her relationships with and feelings about her parents are so different that their deaths do affect her in very different ways, so it makes sense for her to list them separately. It’s not accidental that she mentions her father first. So I wanted to use the first sentence to set up those short, sharp sentences that come after it. The first sentence itself is a common saying, somewhat expected, so that when you read just a few words more and you’re hit with something unexpected, it’s all the more surprising and intriguing. (I hope!)

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors Claire King (The Night Rainbow) and Amy Sue Nathan (The Glass Wives).

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).

Friday First Lines (volume 3)

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 Clover HouseAuthor Henriette Laridis Power writes:

First sentence of THE CLOVER HOUSE:  

“On those rare occasions when she couldn’t control the world around her, my mother placed the blame squarely on America, the country she had reluctantly immigrated to from Greece in 1959.”
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We all do try to make the first sentence effective. I think, though, that it would be too daunting for most writers to set out with the goal of creating a first sentence as memorable as the opener of, say, Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina. At least I know I would feel too much pressure. The first sentence should draw the reader in, but it does, after all, have to fit in with the tone and style of the rest of the novel. Better to spend one’s writerly energy writing a good manuscript than to squander all the creativity in one place.
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A good first sentence can take so many forms. It can engage the reader’s curiosity. When you read “A screaming comes across the sky” in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, you don’t really know what’s going on, but you know you want to find out. Or a good first sentence can introduce the reader to a new way of expressing the world, as Joyce does with “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a razor and a mirror lay crossed.” Or it can establish an imbalance that sets the story in motion, as with Jane Austen’s famous opening sentence “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” All of these–curiosity, imbalance, newness–will suck the reader in.

I wrote a version of the first sentence for The Clover House when I began the manuscript, but the opening changed significantly at some point in the writing process. The sentence that stands now isn’t the one I began with. Even the original version I wrote came to me simply as part of the writing process. I didn’t treat that sentence any differently than the rest of the sentences in the novel. In revision, certainly, I was aware that the sentence had to earn its place at the beginning of the story.

Bungalow NightsAuthor Christie Ridgway writes:

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“Vance Smith had faced down Taliban bullets with more cool than he felt sitting on the beachside restaurant’s open-air deck.” –First line of BUNGALOW NIGHTS by Christie Ridgway, HQN Books
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First lines have a lot of work to do! You want to set up a question in the reader’s mind immediately. When and why had Vance encountered Taliban bullets? What’s disrupting his cool now, when he seems to be at some safe and sunny location? You want to entice the reader with that first sentence into reading the next, and then the next, and so on. It usually takes a couple of days of thinking for me to settle on the right opening scene, but once I have it, the first sentence usually presents itself quickly–but then must be edited and massaged until it feels just right.
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Sometimes, there are words before that first sentence designed to tell part of the story too. BUNGALOW NIGHTS features an opening quote by Ovid, “Every lover is a soldier,” that I think conveys that love can mean a battle to victory and always, always takes bravery.

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors D.E. Johnson (The Detroit Electric Scheme) and Peggy Hesketh (Telling the Bees).

Friday First Lines (volume 2)

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!

Love Water MemoryAuthor Jennie Shortridge writes:.

The first sentence of Love Water Memory is:

“She became aware of a commotion behind her, yet it seemed important to keep scanning, searching for something out over the water, toward low mountains, a skiff of clouds. .”

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My first sentences, as well as opening paragraphs, get reworked more than any other single part of my books. This one, in particular, had to convey several things:
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1. That there was a “she” who was unnamed. 2. That she’d come to that place for something, but she didn’t know what. 3. That the place she found herself in wasn’t immediately familiar—she didn’t know the name of the mountains or the body of water.
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It also starts with the premise of the book: She became aware. I try to tell the whole story in each book in that first sentence, paragraph, section, before moving into the “front story.” It’s a tall order! But as a reader, I’ve always loved it when I finish a book and go back to read the opening and discover that the author laid it all out for me, yet left it for me to discover.

For Internal Use OnlyAuthor Cari Kamm writes:

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First sentence from FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY:
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“And there it was. What I had been looking for the past fifteen minutes, my sign—to The Brooklyn Bridge.”.

I try to suck the reader in after the first page.  I write the first couple chapters and then go back to the first paragraph to marinate. I read the first page to myself several times and then create a first sentence to catch the readers attention. I want them to want more!.

In my novel, FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY, it came to me in a couple minutes. I imagined myself as the character and what she would think or say in that moment. This involved a lot of talking to myself and usually out loud. My fiancé eventually realized that I’m not crazy and it’s part of my writing process!  The first sentence remained unchanged throughout my writing and editing process.

Come back next week for First Line thoughts from authors Henriette Lazaradis Power (The Clover House) and Christie Ridgway (Bungalow Nights).

Friday First Lines (volume 1)

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!

DownloadedFileAuthor Kevin Lynn Helmick writes:

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.

DownloadedFileAuthor Erika Marks writes:

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
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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.

Next week we’ll hear from authors Jennie Shortridge (Love Water Memory) and Cari Kamm (For Internal Use Only).