Monday, March 22, 2010

First Chapter of Your Novel Part 1: The First Line

The first page of your manuscript is often the only thing an agent sees when deciding whether to ask for more of your book. It needs to give a lot of information, and entice the reader to want to read further. I’ve searched the Internet and my library of books for techniques that have helped me, and figured I would share them with you. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about different aspects of the all-important first page, as well as giving examples of each.

Today, I’ll be starting with the first line, the hook. Here is a list, by no means complete, of books that reeled me in from the first line.

1. “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.” The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
From those few words, we’ve learned the name of the MC, and the fact that she is sneaking around. Why? Is she doing something dangerous, or something that’s simply forbidden? The use of the word “daemon” also suggests that we’re not dealing with our world as we know it.

2. “I felt her fear before I heard her screams.” Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
This book takes us right into the action. Someone is terrified, and I’m pretty sure we’re about to find out why.

3. “My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.” Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
I love this opening. Once again, it gives us the MC’s name. We also get a sense of her age because she uses the word “daddy” instead of “dad”. We know a little bit about her family, and we know that this adventure she’s about to embark on most likely involves a dog. So, we have details about the MC, her family, and the plot all in one sentence.

4. “They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before you, but that’s not how it happened for me.” Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
A lot of books have the “this is how I die” opening, but this one grips me. Possibly because I know that the character actually does die in the book. And no, that’s not a spoiler. It’s the main plot of the book.

5. “I’d seen weirder things than a haunted shoe, but not many.” Storm Born by Richelle Mead
Okay, this one tells us that the book is headed is a supernatural direction. Yay. And that the MC is well immersed in that world. What is she going to do with the haunted shoe? How did it get that way? I certainly want to know more.

6. “In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.” Graceling by Kristin Cashore
In this line, we again get the MC’s name, and the fact that she is resourceful. There’s also a location, the dungeons. The author uses the sense of sight, or lack thereof, to ground us in this location. Why is Katsa there? We don’t know. But I, for one, am curious.

7. 24/7/365 “It’s like she can’t breathe anymore, no matter what she does.” Gone by Lisa McMann
This doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the MC, but it does give a sense of physicality. This being the third book in the trilogy, I already know and care about Janie’s plight, but this line tells me that things have gotten much, much worse.

8. “I didn’t tell dad about Granmama’s white owl.” Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
Only 8 words, but we know a little about the MC’s age and family. And we know she’s keeping a secret. Why?

9. “My arm rises toward my face and the pincer touch of cold steel rubs against my jaw.” Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logstead
This is an excellent example of showing, not telling. The author could have simply said, “I scratch my jaw with my hook for a hand,” but she uses the MC’s sense of touch to show us instead. We also know that this hook must be a recent development. Otherwise, the MC wouldn’t be thinking about it so vividly. What happened to him? There’s part of the plot right there.

10. “Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.” Coraline by Neil Gaiman
We get the MC’s name, the fact that she has a sense of adventure, that she just moved to a new place, and the beginning of the plot all there in 13 words.

These are just a few examples off the top of my head. What about you? If you have any examples of good opening lines, I’d love to hear them.


Crystal Cook said...

Those are all great, this is such a fun thing to do!

Here's one I think is pretty cool:

"Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories."
Maria V. Snyder
Poison Study

KrysteyBelle said...

That is a great one. I haven't gotten around to reading thos books yet. But they sound interesting.

Elana Johnson said...

These are great! I don't have any memorized (besides my own!) and I'm at work. But the power of a great first line is strong. Great examples. :)

Diane Girard said...

"It was as if his eye was an ear and a cackle went through it each time he shot a look at the accordian."

-from Accordian Crimes by Annie Proulx

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