Posts Tagged ‘First Sentence of your novel’

Welcome to this week’s Craft Post. Last week we started a brand new series on the topic of first drafts. Unlike with my Worldbuilding series, I have the whole series broken down into five sub-series which you can find by clicking on the First Drafts link in the toolbar. The first sub-series is on writing the first draft and later get into some other areas of thing that can better help you prepare to write your first draft and things to keep in mind while writing. You can find all posts for this sub-series (insert link to First Draft page), which was tips on preparing. Today is all about first lines.

Go grab some of your favorite books from off your shelves. For those part of a series grab the first book. Open to the first chapter or if there is an intro or prologue. Read only the first sentence. How is it? Does it grab you right away? Is it anything like some of these classics?

A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. —Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951)

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851) American Book Review: 100 Best First Lines from Novels.

Great right? Do you want to read any of these books now based on that first line? So may. Others not. You know why these lines are so great? Or why the first line of your favorite books are good to you? Because everything that follows is just as good and better. There is a huge idea that your first line needs to be epic and meaningful. It should be beautifully crafted. If you read the ones above they are. If I went and started one my novels like Moby Dick and changed the name from Ishmael to Todd, will that make my book opening line be just as great?

Clearly not, Herman Melville wrote one of the best classic books of all time. Also, everything that came after my opening line will determine if that line was great or horrible or somewhere in between. What makes a good opening line is that when you finish the book you can’t imagine it starting any other way. While some might believe, and I include myself in this two years ago that the opening line should be good, the rest of the story is just as important as that first line.

“But Tim, isn’t it true that agents and editors turn down authors based on the first few pages?”

The answer is yes. Some even by the first line. I can’t remember what agent said they have turned down an author based on the first word. What you need to know about agents and publishers is they have so many manuscripts int their slush pile that they have developed little tricks that help them know if the book is good. Was the grammar bad, or was the first sentence is confusing or bad? Did they even care about what was going on after the first page? Every agent and editor are different, and each has their own tricks.

“Then we should really take the time to make sure our first lines are perfect.”

Yes and No. When it comes to first drafts one of my tips from the first post was is get it written. That is the focus of the first draft. Spending several hours or days on the first line is just not a great way of spending the opening days of starting your first draft. I did that when I started the first draft for Seeing Through the Veil. I had just read The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke. It was a great book and got me a little to focused on that part of my novel. I recommend reading it after your first draft is done. I wasted a month of trying to make sure my first fifty pages were great so I had little polishing to do on them in the second draft. I ended up stopping and not pick up the book for two more months.

First drafts are to get it written. Once it is written then you know what is happening, even if you outline having an outline and fleshing it into a full-length book is different. For some, there are probably outliners out there that they know every step and all writing is making it more visual. Once you know what is happening you are better prepared to spend more time on your first line. However, don’t worry about making your opening line great like some of the ones I posted above. You don’t decide if it is on par with those lines. The readers do.

That’s all I got today, check back next week for the next post called The First Chapter. Be sure to catch my Weekly Writing Wrap-up on Monday’s as well.


In the beginning, first 250 words the author choose sucked and that was all of that book I read.
Okay, that is clearly an over exaggeration of the importance of making sure the first page of your book awesome. Surely, no one stops reading a book based on the first word, let alone the first sentence or paragraph… Oh wait, my roommate does. Because one person does it must mean everyone does it, oh look another exaggeration. Unless the first word, sentence or paragraph are horribly written, most people would not stop reading a book solely on that. First page, possible, but according to Jeff Gerke, author of The First Fifty Pages, not having a good fifty pages could cause your readers to put your book down and not pick it back up. Especially if those readers are an agent or an editor reading to see if they want to represent you, or buy your book. Having a coma missing could be a reason an agent could decide not to represent you, well maybe not just a coma. Agents and Editors work load is so loaded when they finally sit down to read through their slush pile to find new talent, which Gerke constantly reminds you in his book they want to love. They don’t want to reject you, the future of their business and their careers depend on find new talented authors. They just know that it is less likely your manuscript will be good, because they see more crap then gold.
Before I get too far along, this is not a review of Gerke book, I am still reading it and I am about half way through, well more like sixty percent. I skipped everything to chapter twelve, the second to last chapter where he actually talks about the first page of your novel. I assure you there is a reason to his madness on why he waits that late in the book to cover the book, and I’ll go into that in my review. It was after reading that book I decide to read the whole book, and I am glad I am, again more on that in my review. My goal of this post it more about why I picked up his book and my fascination with he first page.
For those who maybe their first time reading my blog, lately I have returned to the first book series I have wrote, well first novel. After massive changes and eleven years since I wrote the first draft, I have found the issues with the series and ready to work on it again. I want to make the first draft the best I can while filling in the blank spots on my outline, and nailing things like character voice of my character. Being a first person POV, I really need to nail that voice, which by the way I have found and think I am doing very good with the little writing I have done. The day I woke up, with Kiana’s voice clearly in my head, seriously I could feel on my head where the voice was talking from. I knew I just had to sit down and write a scene. Not chapter or scenes, just a scene, if you’re a writer you know that feeling you get when you just have to start writing that day, maybe even that second. Luckily, mine was last Monday and didn’t need to get it down the second I woke up.
The reason was, on my outline the opening scene is a dream where Kiana isn’t even in, and the main reason I hadn’t written anything before this was I wasn’t sure how to go about writing this dream from first person when we haven’t met yet. I got up and really thought about it and decided to move that scene later. After a little rearranging, I had a better first scene, yet I wanted to know more about writing the first page. Google “First Page of your Novel” and you will find maybe six articles that were not that helpful, maybe one was can’t remember. Then I remember seeing the book on the first fifty pages, which I knew about before my search, but I didn’t care about the first fifty pages, I cared about page one. After no really help from my search, I checked my kindle to find that book I already had, not read. So I opened up to the table of content and saw chapter twelve covered the first page. I jumped to it and read it. Half way through the chapter I came to this about how not to start your novel.

“And … don’t start by someone getting out of a car, okay? Or having a dream that she’ll then wake up from.” Gerke, Jeff. The First 50 Pages (Kindle Location 2824).

I cannot tell you how good I felt about make the changes to my outline after reading that part. Though I do want to point out that J.K Rowling starts book four of Harry Potter this way. However, I contest she is allowed to do this, because the way she wrote it, it was a scene taking place else where that Harry sees through his link with He Who Shall Not Be Named! Ops Spoilers! Also, it’s the forth book in the series the book is going to be published. Besides that, I was happy with my decision. After reading that chapter I decided go back and read the whole thing, because he cover other stuff on what your first fifty pages must accomplish to improve your chances of getting picked up by an agent/bought by an editor. Gerke does say making sure everything he covers does not mean you will, it greatly improves your chances.
Putting the book down I sat to write, and that nagging feeling to write was gone, but after some lunch and a shower the feeling returned, but more cautious. After I wrote I ended up re-writing that scene again on Tuesday differently, and I liked how it came out better for many reasons, which I am not going to go into. I am still nervous about first few pages of the book, but I moved on knowing I can fix the idea in my head write now, after I finish the draft. Partly it is because I haven’t finished the book, but after the chapter I read this morning, I think I know a lot of what you need in the first fifty pages, I am just nervous. Normally, I rush through the first draft, because early in my writing endeavors Randy Ingermanson, that the faster you write your novel the more you can write. While that is great advice, I have been writing since 2004 really trying to get a novel published, and all I got is three full length novels written that are no where close to being ready to be put out.
Having read many books on writing, I thought I knew what I needed to know about the important parts, craft how to develop a novel, Point of Voice, voice, characters, etc. Yet, one of my weakest points is that I rushed through the first draft, leaving far more mistakes then I should, and a mess that I have to fix in the second and I don’t. I realize that speed is good, but starting out slow is better for me right now. I have only written three times and two of them were the start of the book. Also, instead of writing chapters at a time, I am writing scenes and will figure out chapters they fit in later.
It is easy to over look the beginning of your novel, because it can be usually slow paced and not as exciting, which Gerke suggests find a sport that is exciting to start the novel at or start where you can show character. I kind of found both, the first page opens with character but within the first ten to fifteen pages we will get some action. Something else I just heard from author K M. Weiland on her podcast this morning, how when she gets about twenty-five percent through her novel she goes back to do some editing, to take a break from writing as well to help get a feel for the flow of the story. I do my editing in the evenings on the stuff I wrote the day before to allow time away from it, but mostly just to fixes errors and quickly re-writes for anything that clearly needs it. However, that is scene by scene, I won’t get too much of a sense of how it is going, reading it all together will. Time will tell, but I think I will give it a try.
Hopefully, I will get the rest of the First Fifty Pages done this week, since 60 hour a week summer job will be starting soon, and my free time I am going to have to be very selective. Excited, I get to work in my field this summer. No Retail Job this summer, oh yeah baby. Look for my review, and hopefully some interviews from some authors, published and non-published. Also, by the end of the night I should have a list of all the books I have read on writing with a review score. The reviews will come later.
Links to the authors sites I mentioned in this post: Jeff Gerke, K M. Weiland Helping Writers Become Authors, and Randy Ingermanson Advanced Ficition Writing (takes you to the blog).