Writing Opening Lines That Sparkle & Shine

This is a guest post I did on a collaborative blog called “Blue Monkey Writing”at http://bluemonkeywriting.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/writing-opening-lines-that-sparkle-shine/

 

I absolutely love going into bookstores and smelling new books. When you crack open a book, what do you smell? Does it fill your senses, like it does mine? I love that new book smell, but other than that what draws you into a book other than the cover art and back copy? What is the first thing that really determines if a reader will continue reading your book?

I don’t know what you do when you are looking at a book, but I flip to the first page. I find this is the test on whether I will like a book or not, as I have a short attention span when it comes to what I read. I’ve struggled getting into books when reading some first lines which resulted in my setting the book down on the shelf again. But then there have been other books where I have found myself reaching for the next page inquisitively.

That is true of every piece of work out there! If the first sentence or first paragraph doesn’t make me want to keep reading, then I close the book and set it back on the shelf. I like it when an author pulls me into a story filled with intriguing characters, unique plot, and beautiful prose from the get go.

Do you want your readers to continue reading after the first line and first paragraph? Do you want your readers to be spellbound with your words from the first line of your book?

If you answered yes, then I believe I know a way to help you make your opening lines sparkle & shine.

I have heard many people say that there is no rule to writing an opening line for your book, but writers can learn by looking at their favorite books opening lines to see how their favorite authors did it. So, first off – I want you to do something – go get your favorite books out of your bookshelf and look at the opening lines. What makes you want to read on?

Recently, I read a book “The Forgotten Garden” by an Australian Author named Kate Morton. I opened her book in the bookstore and was spell-bound from the words in the first sentence.

“It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.”

Right away this sentence had me asking questions, like “what had she been told? Where was she? And why was she crouching someplace? Was she hiding? And if so who was she hiding from?” When I read the second sentence I was caught up in the tale even more. Before I even knew it, I had finished the first page and found myself turning to the second. At that moment I knew I had a great book in my hand.

After you have figured out what made you want to keep reading, make a list.

My list for Kate Morton’s opening lines:

  • After reading it I have somewhat a sense of place
  • The first line had me asking questions
  • I have a main character who I am interested in knowing more about
  • I like the style of writing.

Another example:

It is a little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead – Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat from book lollipop shoes)

  • First question that comes to my mind is “why are letters being delivered to the dead?”
  • Just the voice and style make me inquisitive.
  • It was somewhat shocking and dark (I like to have dark elements in my stories as well, so I can bring light out of the darkness at the end.)
  • The detailed prose in how she wrote it

After knowing what you like in an opening line, you can use that information while writing yours. For instance, I really like how Joanne Harris wrote her opening line with such beautiful prose and tone. And with Kate Morton’s opening line, I really love how I have that sense of place, a person, and her thoughts. I like that both of these examples filled my mind with questions right away. I wanted answers and in order to find out the answers, I had to read on. (You get the idea, soon you are hooked!)

Writing Process

First off, write your book so you know where your story begins, where your characters are, and so you know your world and setting. Then you know everything about your story. While writing, just make sure you get the story out on paper before worrying about the opening line. Because while writing I have spent a majority of time trying to make my first chapter perfect and then you don’t move on.

Your Edits

When writers edit their WIPs, they work and rework their opening lines. Take into consideration the list you made of what you liked about your favorite authors first lines. Make your opening line, make your reader want read on.
Some Things to remember while editing:

  1. Capture your “Who” – And I am not talking about your own little fluff with a little world on it called Who-Vill. Even thought Horton had his Who’s. haha! (Not all first lines have a distinct “Who” in it. Joanne Harris’ example had no “Who”, but Kate Morton’s does.
  2. Use your voice – It is important you write true to yourself. Let your muse speak – don’t use someone else’s voice.
  3. Give a sense of conflict – This is shown in Kate Morton’s first lines “as she crouched”. It gives the sense that she is hiding. She may not be in trouble, but it has the reader wondering.
  4. Set the tone – 
Joanne Harris wrote with a mystical and eerie tone in the example up above with the letters to the dead. Which I really like, because it has you asking, “Why are letters going to the dead?” and it made me read on.
  5. Make the readers ask a bunch of questions after reading your first line.

What’s the first line of your current WIP? What are some of your favorite first lines from books? And what are some ways that you make your first line sparkle & shine?

Choice One

Choice 2

You ask, “Devin, how can I win one of those amazing journals?”

This contest will be taking place this coming week. I will be giving away 2 journals of your choice for the prizes, but in order to stay in the running you must:

  1. You must be a follower of my blog! :)
  2. Share the blog with your friends on facebook, twitter, your blog, and other sites during the week! (I will get notifications that you have shared so, I will know!)
  3. Comment. Answer the questions & ask questions. You can answer one of them or all of them!! :D
  4. And last but not least, take part in conversation in the comments. The posts will be showing how to dig deep in our journalling and how that helps us in our daily walk!
  5. The contest will begin today and will run till the 29th of September! :)Good LUCK! :) May the Journals be in your favor! :D
  6. The more you share, facebook, tweet, and comment the more of a chance you will have to win one of the amazing journals.

How About You?

  1. What are some of your favorite opening lines from books?
  2. If you are a writer, what is your current WIP’s first line? 

More Plotting-Day 3 of Devin’s Writing Routine Exercise

DAY THREE

Today I am uploading two posts because I was so busy yesterday and hadn’t been able to post about day two. Today was a plotting day and deciding to just get in there to finish writing a certain section. Besides writing I have been busy with marketing and freelance work. Be sure to check out the “extra” tab for my buttons. If you are a blogger who likes my blog, be free to put my button on your side-bar! :) Would be great!
Things coming up soon:

  1. I am also planning on releasing an ebook that I will have a contest up in awhile for.
  2. Vlogs – I have been planning on making more YouTube videos and posting more often

Today I wrote 2,470 words. I felt that it was a great accomplishment and I am happy to know that from the last few days I have gained a much better knowledge of my characters and what they are like!

The first day, I asked you if you are a writer who lets the plot drive the story? Or if you are a writer who let’s the character drive the story, which are you? I would love to hear what you think!

I have been adding onto my post-it-note plot

I swear, it’s filling up the whole kitchen wall. :)

I have been adding on to my post-it-note wall, and as you can see it takes up a good chuck of the wall. I have heard that the Plot Driven writers are more logical and such. While the Character Driven Writers are more into the detail and emotions of a character. That is most definitely me. How about you?

We are going to do a quick exercise! 

How many can you think of? A lot of them, right?

Since we are focusing on Plot today… this exercise shows us something about plot.

1. Rising Action
2. Climax
3. Falling Action With of course the

Do you see something similar? Three…

This is of course a more simpler version of what many of our stories are. Story is usually a little mountain range leading up to the Climax. Which means that there are other conflicts within the main conflict. There are also climaxes within the climax.

  1. Start with a character who has a conflict -Pinocchio for example. Wants to be a real boy. What is your stories Conflict?
    “You don’t have a story until there is conflict.” – Author Steven James once told me
  2. Does your character have conflict?
  3. For the last exercise for today – (I will also do this and I will post it tomorrow) Summarize the plot of your story into a single sentence using action verbs. Be sure to mention the character’s conflict.

Happy Writing… and see you tomorrow! :)

Pointers on Post-It-Note Plotting – Devin’s Writing Routine Exercise Day 1 – Turnout :)

“The hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.” -Ernest Hemingway

Hello Everyone,

Today was the first day of my writing challenge. And I can imagine you all want to know how it went? I woke up at 5am. Yes, I actually did it. Spent a little while checking emails and updates and then I went straight to work. Outside my window the sky was a dark blue colour – definitely a twilight colour. I find something very magical and intriguing about the dark blue sky. I wrote 2,209 words all before 7:30am. When I saw how fast the words were appearing on the page, I realized that this baby wants to get written. :) Which I am so excited about.

Some pointers for Devin’s Writing Routine Exercise

  1. Stop writing when you know what will happen next – Ernest Hemmingway once said that he stops writing when he knows where he will start up the next day. I have been trying this the last few times I have been writing and it works rather well. You should try it, if you haven’t yet! :) I am excited for my next 5am morning start on Monday and who knows maybe I can get out more than 2,000 words then.
  2. Plot is Purdy Important – Plot has always confused me because some people argue whether their stories are character driven or plot driven. If I would have to choose which one, I think I would be a character drives the story sort of writer. But with this story I have been plotting out ahead of time what I am going to write. What about you? Do you write character driven or plot driven stories? In the picture you will be able to see that I am plotting with post it notes. It’s kind of a nice little break away from the computer/notebook. I write with the word processing program Scrivener and it is also a very, VERY, VERRRRY great program for plotting, character development, and writing your actual novel. I don’t really use Microsoft Word anymore. Many other famous writers use Scrivener now too. If you haven’t checked out Scrivener, do so! I promise it will make a difference in your writing time and organization. (There is a 30-day trial on the website.)

    I decided to use post-it-notes and my open bare wall for plotting. A nice way to get away from the computer and still work on your book plot. I know that some other people use index cards.


  3. Colour– use some colour, it will help your senses and creativity flow. Colour coding topics, characters and much more always helps me keep things straight. :)

    I believe that colour really helps you while being creative. So, when writing why not write in colour. Colour code certain topics, themes, or characters to find them easier! :)

    Colour Coding… :)

    Here is an example of the colour coding and the post-it-note plotting.

    I will be sure to post more hints and ideas next week when I post the next Devin’s Writing Routine Exercise Day 2 turn out on Monday. :)

    There was a part this morning where I was so engrossed in my story; I was writing about an owl and i was in a dark forest at night. Then all of a sudden there was a noise near my window on the clothes line. It was a black crow… he fell off the clothes-line or something. Weird bird, but he gave me a fright. A bit later a bush turkey strolled on by on the fence separating the houses. A bush turkey? I couldn’t believe it. I usually see cats walking on the fence, but a bush turkey? Since, I am telling you a little bit about my neighborhood birds I may as well also throw in that there was another crow on the roof of the house next door and it was carrying a piece of bread – like a full piece. These strange birds. Haha… but yes, that was random. It all started with me getting scared because of a noise and what I was writing.

    Have any of you ever scared yourselves, when writing? Has it ever made you jump?