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.
Visiting my blog today is author Precarious Yates, here to talk about the difficult topic of loving the unembraceable. For another look at the subject, make sure you click on the link further down to check out her book.
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7
Sometimes God puts people in our lives that test us right down to the core of who we are. They are people we have to forgive over and over and over and over again. This one gets right under your skin. That one pushes every button you knew you had and even some you didn’t think you had. She makes you feel like you’re walking on eggshells all the time.
When the Lord puts someone like that in your life, rejoice. First of all, He trusts you with this person. Second of all, there is some change in this person’s life that might not happen if he or she doesn’t have that encounter with you. What a privilege to partner with the Lord in that way! And third of all, there might be something the Lord wants to change in your life, and that change wouldn’t have happened without said person to sharpen you like iron sharpens iron.
Healthy relationships need boundaries. But don’t use the excuse of boundaries to shoo away someone that the Lord wants you to have in your life. Ask Him to show you His purpose for this person’s presence in your life.
More than that, you can ask Him how He views this person. While he or she may get under our skin, the Lord knit this person together in his or her mother’s womb and He has plans for their life. Somehow or other, you fit into that plan!
Pray for the person daily. Ask the Lord to show you new and unique ways to love this person. You may even find that this person doesn’t get under your skin as much anymore, or that you don’t have as many buttons that can be pushed as you used to have.
And when we come to the very edge of our abilities, we can cry out to the Lord. Then He begins to love THROUGH us, and that’s a beautiful and lasting thing indeed.
In the book UnEmbraceable, we learn the story of Tamar and all the reasons why she walked around like a stem of thorns with hardly a rose. Steadfast love causes a turnaround, but not without a great deal of hurt, and quite a few of her Christian friends asking “WHY, ME, GOD? WHY ME?!!” In the end, Tamar, the one who is unembraceable, isn’t the only one who changes.
BIO: Precarious Yates studied the plight of and worked toward the abolition of modern slavery for over a decade before sitting down to write Revelation Special Ops. Yates spent several years overseas as a missionary in Ireland, and also did missions work in India and the Philippines. Her passion for literature has become her means of further educating young adults of the realities of modern slavery, while producing hope through the power of Christ Jesus in us.
Soni is a friend from India who I “met” (online) through my mom. A fellow writer, she has recently published a children’s book featuring beautiful Indian-style art to go with each phrase of the Lord’s prayer (you can take a look at her book and buy it here if you like). Soni and I arranged to do guest posts on each other’s blogs; hers is below, and you can read mine on her blog at http://jaajaabor.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/guest-post-annie-douglas-lima//. Make sure you read or scroll all the way to the bottom, because both of us are holding giveaways! You can win an actual, physical copy of a piece of Soni’s art or a copy of my eBook In the Enemy’s Service!
Ever since I started my blog, I have found virtual community and met people that would not have been possible otherwise – I find it amazing. Annie’s mother Cathy introduced us when I wrote to tell her about my self-published children’s book. It is called “Teach us to pray” is an illustrated book for young kids to teach them about the Lord’s Prayer. My illustrative style has been influenced by many folk arts of Indiaand to know how you can win a print please stay with me till the end of the post.
I have often likened immigration from the east to west to getting married and moving from your family to your husband’s family. As a woman that analogy makes sense to me, it may not make as much sense to you so let me explain.
Typically in India, when a woman gets married, she moves into a joint family with her in-laws and she is supposed to adhere and adjust to existing unwritten rules of the household. Even in nuclear families, the relationship with the mother-in-law is significant and often is subject to comparison with the mother. For all purposes she may have taken on her new identity but there is a part of her heart that belongs with her own parents and family. Same is the case with coming to live in a new country.
When I made my big move from Indiato Canada, I did not know what to expect. I had to go through a learning process which included new mannerisms, new cultural references etc.
No matter how much you read about a country in books or travel as a tourist, you get the real authentic flavour of a place only when you have lived there for an extended period of time. Over the course of time I have discovered newer things about Canadaand my expectations have become more grounded in reality. For example the winter in Canada- It was during my second winter in Canada that I really begun to understand the passion behind skiing or ice hockey or for that matter the craziness in summer to soak it all in. After five years in Canada, I can say that I feel as much Canadian as I feel Indian.
I moved to Canadain the year that the hugely successful movie “Slum dog Millionaire” was released. So naturally, people were interested in finding out more about India and the movie became an ice-breaker in many instances. Even till date when I meet new people, Indiabecomes an instant topic of conversation.
India is a secular country with 28 states and 7 union-territories, and 14 official languages. Indiais such a big country that it is not possible to summarize it in a 5-minute social talk or even in a single blog post but I am glad to engage in a conversation. For today I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about the most common topics I have been asked about India.
Food is the most talked about subject especially when you are gathering at events. I have often found extreme reactions to Indian food- they either love it or stay away from it, there is no middle ground. It is true that our curries are often too spicy, our deserts too sweet and our portions too big. It is also true that it what is considered as Indian cuisine is not one style of cooking at all , it is a culmination of different regional cuisines and somehow the most popular ones got associated with Indian food. The most common curries you would find in any Indian restaurant in North America are spiced-down versions to the mughlai and Punjabi style of cooking in addition to some south-Indian favourites like Dosas, idlis, sambar etc. The actual Indian cooking is much diverse than that. Also what is served in restaurants is a feast fit for a big occasion but it is not how we normally eat at home. To get an authentic taste of Indian cooking, I always recommend eating at home with friends.
When asked for restaurant recommendations, I have to often apologise because when we go out to eat, we go out to try some new cuisines other than what I can make at home!
This style of physical and mental discipline may have originated in India but I will be honest; I never practised it except in school where it was a part of our physical education training. I would posit that yoga was almost declining from the daily life in India – limited only to spiritual retreats and ashrams (thanks to the dedicated ones who continued on with it )- before it became popular in the west. Yoga has become such a huge thing in the west- much different from the yoga of my younger days.
Thanks to my friends who are into yoga, I now know about a few yoga retreats in North- India and some ayurvedic healing resorts in south of India- Something I would never have found out on my own (ironic , I know !).
Mainly referring to the Hindi film industry, Bollywood movies are characterised by their song and dance routines, a larger than life canvas and melodramatic performances. Hindi movies are flag bearers of traditions and language in one way. As an immigrant, watching Hindi movies is akin to creating a small oasis of Indiaaround me. I have met many second generation Canadian-Indian who feel connected to Indiaby the way of the movies.
Ever since dance shows like ‘so you think you can dance’ included Bollywood as a dance style in their roster Hindi movie songs have become better known internationally. Credit is also due to Hollywoodand international movie makers for shining the spotlight on India. As I mentioned earlier, in 2008 it was the movie “slum dog Millionaire” and in 2012 it was “life of Pi” that became a starting point of lot of conversations.
Indian clothing and fabrics have recently become fashionable. Thanks again to Hindi Movies and many Indian actors making appearances on red-carpets all over the world. Women’s wear like saris and kurtis are well known and have been worn by the likes of Oprah and Madonna. Some say there are as many ways of wearing a sari as there are regions in India.
Whenever I turn-up in church or a social gathering in an Indian ensemble, I am always complimented about the bright colours and rich embroideries or weaves. Even some of our simple designs are quite elaborate and you have to see some heavily embroidered and richly textured dresses to believe how much can be done on a piece of fabric. If you are interested please look up Banarasi, Kantha, kanjeevaram weaves on the net. Add to that all sorts of jewellery styles like kundan, temple jewellery from south etc. and you would never be short of things to talk about.
Oh this is a big one! Every time someone asks me how I met my husband; they are almost dumbfounded that I met him only once before marriage or that our marriage was approved and blessed by our parents and pastors of both our churches. Wedding are a family affair in Indiaand are big on traditions. From finding a suitable match to making all the arrangements, the family is involved in all the aspects. The most popular version seen on the media is the north Indian Hindu marriage but there are lot of regional variations in traditions with in the Hindu belief system and there are local traditions associated with different religious groups as well. It is no wonder then that an immigrant from Indiais naturally inclined to look for local traditions and culture of the new place.
I always find it interesting to hear from people what they know or like to know about my culture and where I am from. It makes me feel welcomed and accepted. When people talk to me about life in Canada they make me feel like a part of this country. I am excited to be a part of this inter-cultural dialogue that is constantly shaping and diversifying the social environment in Canada.
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