Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Writers' Wednesday: First Lines

The February issue of Writer's Digest was (as always) chock-full of good articles on craft, success stories, interviews, etc. But the one I found the most helpful was the one on first lines. We agonize over them, revise them, abandon them, pretend they don't matter as much as they do. Bu ultimately, the first line of anything we write is the hook that will (or won't) pull the reader to the next sentence, and the next page, and...well, you get the idea.

Many, many people have talked about what a first line should do. This article, "Better Starts for Better Stories", touched on a lot of the standbys, many of which are worth mentioning again:

*Resist the urge to start too early (one of the best pieces of advice).
*Small hooks catch more fish than big ones (or, hook 'em and then pull like crazy in the opposite direction).
*Start with a mystery.
*Keep talk to a minimum (interesting, since many people will tell you to begin with dialogue. but be careful - you don't want to lose your readers either, and they won't have a clue who's talking from the get-go).
*Introduce your voice.
*Establish a mood.
*Go with a classic (yes, like "Once upon a time" or a close variation)

Some "classics" they quoted, again worth quoting here:

"Call me Ishmael." (Moby Dick)
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." (Pride and Prejudice)
"I am an invisible man." (Invisble Man)
"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful." (Gone With the Wind)
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." (Lolita)
"It was a pleasure to burn." (Fahrenheit 451)
"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. (The Bell Jar)

And if you want to read more, here's a Top 100 website that's kind of fun to peruse...

I've both agonized over first lines and, fortunately, had a couple that sprang to me fully formed and never changed. Of the 5 books I've written, these 2 have my favorite first lines - and interestingly, they really never changed from the moment I wrote them.

"Get out!" shouted Dakota James as she threw Sean McCabe's jeans - her favorite pair, she noted bitterly, faded in all the right places - across the room. (from One Night in Memphis) - I think this one works because it immediately sets up the conflict that drives most of the plot: a breakup, fiery and laced with reluctance.

Grant Walker knew it was going to be a long day when he woke up and couldn't remember the name of the woman lying next to him. (from One Night in Napa) - I think this one works because Grant's playboy personality (and how it both gets him in trouble and ultimately changes) is a major focus of the plot.

So...what are your favorite first lines, either ones you've written or ones you've read - and why do you think they work so well?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Mentionables: My Week of Reading, in Review

Back from a week's vacation! Since I spent some time last week flying to Florida (and waiting in airports), I loaded up my Nook and treated myself to some good reads. Among those I enjoyed:

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins - As I may have mentioned before, I've had the good fortune to meet Kristan a couple of times. Not only is she a talented writer (she's won the RITA twice), but she's a super-nice, funny, warm person as well. But! On to the book...

If you're a writer and unsure of how to create or connect story arcs, look no further than anything by this author. Kristan Higgins is superb at winding together major and minor plotlines and characters. All I Ever Wanted is no exception, with a funny, self-deprecating, slightly overweight heroine who'll do anything to win back the man of her dreams (until, she realizes, that he really isn't, and that good-looking but disdainful guy at the DMV actually is). Funny, touching, and with some great minor characters, I HIGHLY recommend this read.

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball (apparently it was a "Krista/in" sort of month for me...) - This one's a memoir by a Harvard grad who's living a "Sex in the City" sort of single life until she interviews a farming entrepreneur from Pennsylvania and falls in love with both him and the farming life. They marry and move to (way) upstate NY, where they start a farm that eventually becomes a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) now serving 100+ community members. She's a talented writer and spends A LOT of time describing both the food they grow and cook (my mom actually made 2 of her recipes, they're that specific) and the labor involved in running a farm, even a so-called "small" one. Really an interesting and inspiring read.

Finally, I read a few short stories for LASR as a reviewer (nope, keeping those anonymous) and came to this conclusion: I'm not crazy about stories where the hero and heroine fall into bed because they simply can't resist each other and then, a few pages later, fall in life-long love for apparently the same reason. Folks, even if it's a short story, there has to be a believable reason 2 people are drawn together and STAY together for the long run, besides the fact that the sex is incredibly hot. Just saying.

So...anyone have any good book recommendations for me?