Today I’m pleased to present a guest post about the importance of first lines and opening scenes in a novel, by author Meradeth Houston. Make sure you take a look at her books, described below. They sound fascinating!
First lines and Opening Scenes
The most prime real estate in your novel is the opening. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely important points throughout, but that opening really has to rock to grab the attention of the reader, especially an agent or editor you hope will work with your book. So, no pressure or anything J. There are a few things you might think about while working on your opening line, and the first 200 or so words, to help you really have an opening that screams “you have to keep reading!”
~Your opening, from the first line, to the setting of the first scene in the opening hundred words, is all about hooking your reader in. To start with, you should know what would make you read on—what snags your attention as a reader? One of my favorite things to do at a bookstore is chose random titles within my favorite genre and read the openings. Which ones are mind-blowing and force me to spend way too much money on books? Which ones leave me thinking I’ll grab the book some other time? Another great spot to spy on openings are some of the competitions on the web, such as those run monthly by Miss Snark’s First Victim, or others—tons of openings and lots of fun to see what works.
Once you’ve read a lot, ask the all important question: WHY? This will probably have something to do with a few different things:
~Setting the tone.The first line must set the right tone for the rest of the book. This comes down partly to the voice of the novel and author, as well as the feel of the book. A dark urban fantasy would probably not want to start off with an upbeat, fluffy opening, or a contemporary romance probably wouldn’t begin with a grisly murder scene. While both might grab the reader’s attention, choosing an opening for shock value doesn’t help when a few pages in the reader get a dramatic shift in tone and sets the book aside.
~Setting up the main character(s). The reader wants to know who they’re going to be reading about. Opening with other people who won’t play the central roles in the novel doesn’t allow for them to draw us in, and it kind of amounts to a bait-and-switch J. Let the MC’s voice shine through from the very start.
~Beginning in the right spot. This is probably the hardest thing to really figure out. On one hand, opening with some action is a great hook, but on the other hand has the potential to completely confuse the reader as it provides no context. Finding the right balance of the two can be difficult, but asking yourself this question might help: When do things really begin to change for my main character? Then back up in time a little and go from there. At least, this is what works for me!
~Know the no-no’s.Waking up, looking into a mirror, running away—there are a ton of lists around the web of openings that have become cliché. Become familiar with these, and try to avoid them. If you must use them, be sure to do something unique or unexpected with it.
Possibly the most frustrating part about openings is how subjective they can be. Some openings work for some people, but not others. Remembering that everything is subjective in writing is something that is good to remember, and may save you some heartache.
Here are a few first lines that I particularly love:
“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (so telling and so bleak. I am in love with Steifvater’s writing!)
“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (it’s the “thank you very much” in this one that not only makes me want to laugh, but begs the question of why they’re so concerned about being normal)
“The first time, November 6 to be exact, I wake up at two a.m. with a tingling in my head like tiny fireflies dancing behind my eyes.” Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (I love the voice in this and the details of the date and fireflies)
“I greeted his tombstone the way I always did-with a swift kick.” Colors Like Memories by me J
What are some of your favorite opening lines and scenes?
A bit about the Colors Like Memories:
Julia has a secret: she killed the guy she loved. It was an accident—sort of.
Julia is a Sary, the soul of a child who died before taking her first breath. Without this ‘breath of life’ she and others like her must help those on the verge of suicide. It’s a job Julia used to enjoy, until the accident that claimed her boyfriend’s life—an accident she knows was her fault. If living with the guilt weren’t enough, she’s now assigned to help a girl dealing with the loss of her mother, something Julia’s not exactly the best role model for. If she can’t figure out a way to help her, Julia’s going to lose her position in the Sary, something she swore to her boyfriend would never happen.
Now available in print and ebook format!
A bit about The Chemistry of Fate:
“They are everywhere, can be anyone, and are always the last person you’d expect.” When Tom stumbles across his grandfather’s journal, he’s convinced the old man was crazier than he thought. The book contains references to beings called the Sary, immortals who are assigned to save humans on the verge of suicide. They certainly aren’t allowed to fall in love with mortals. Which the journal claims Tom’s grandfather did, resulting in his expulsion from the Sary. As strange as the journal seems, Tom can’t get the stories out of his head; especially when he finds the photo of his grandfather’s wings.
Tom’s only distraction is Ari, the girl he studies with for their chemistry class.
Ari has one goal when she arrives in town: see how much Tom knows about the Sary and neutralize the situation. This isn’t a normal job, but protecting the secrecy of the Sary is vital. If Tom is a threat to exposing the Sary to the public, fate has a way of taking care of the situation, usually ending with the mortal’s death. While Ari spends time with Tom, he becomes more than just an assignment, but how far can a relationship go when she can’t tell him who she really is? When she finds out just how much Tom actually knows about the Sary, Ari is forced to choose between her wings, and her heart.
THE CHEMISTRY OF FATE is a companion to COLORS LIKE MEMORIES and is set before the latter takes place. It is geared toward an upper YA, or New Adult audience.
Meradeth’s never been a big fan of talking about herself, but if you really want to know, here are some random tidbits about her:
>She’s a Northern California girl, but now lives and teaches anthropology in Montana.
>When she’s not writing, she’s sequencing dead people’s DNA. For fun!
>She’s been writing since she was 11 years old. It’s her hobby, her passion, and she’s so happy to get to share her work!
>If she could have a super-power, it would totally be flying. Which is a little strange, because she’s terrified of heights.