I’m always thrilled and slightly amazed when an author agrees to visit my blog. Today is no different. I’m pleased to welcome Merry Jones, author of Child’s Play. Ms. Jones will be discussing the idea of first lines, where do they come from and how important are they. Thank you, Ms. Jones, for taking a few minutes to share your thoughts on first lines with us.
Sometimes, writing fiction seems a lot like trying to pick up a Hot Stranger in a bar: The opening line makes or breaks us.
If we blow that first line in a bar, the Stranger turns off, never to find out what scintillating people we are. In a book, the reader stops, never to find out what scintillating prose awaits them on page two.
In other words, if we don’t grab them immediately, it’s over.
Or so writers sometimes think. Of course, grabbing doesn’t have to involve a chokehold. But it does have to make readers (or Strangers) want to find out more. To engage them. Build curiosity. Create intrigue and draw them in.
Convinced about the importance of immediate grabbing, some writers sweat over these opening lines. Even talented, accomplished authors can find first lines daunting, getting intimidated, believing that these lines have to be perfect. Powerful. Strong. Meaningful. Dramatic. Unique. After all, these first sentences are supposed to set tone, establish style, lead readers into the world of the book—In short: hook them.
So what is it, exactly, that makes a good opening line? Are there rules? Definitions? Does anyone really know?
Maybe looking at some will help. Of course, Snoopy’s “It was a dark and stormy night” is unbeatable. But consider these:
“Mrs. Ferrars died on the night of the 16-17th September—a Thursday.” The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
“Last night I dreamt I was in Manderley again.” Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
“Patsy sat by herself at the beginning of the evening, eating a melted chocolate bar.” Moving On, by Larry McMurtry
“They’re out there.” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
“I am ninety.” Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.” The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
“It was a Sunday morning at the peak of spring.” The Judgment, by Franz Kafka
“It was a slow Sunday afternoon, the kind Walden loved.” The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett
These opening lines are by iconic fiction writers. And, in a way, each sets a tone and presents key information. But, honestly, if you didn’t know where these sentences came from, would you think they were anything special? Please. “It was a slow Sunday afternoon…”? Or, “It was about eleven o’clock in the morning…”?
No, to me, the opening sentence isn’t all that important. What’s important is all the sentences that follow it. Without a compelling story and appealing characters, these opening lines, even though by such distinguished authors, would be just—well, sentences.
So here’s my theory: These iconic authors didn’t worry about the opening sentence; they just started telling their stories. There has to be a beginning. That beginning might indicate time and place, might introduce a character. Might reveal a thought. Present a fact. Drop into the middle of some ongoing event or action. Whatever starts the telling makes the first sentence. Just as whatever concludes the story will make the last.
Mickey Spillane supposedly said that the beginning sells the novel and the end sells the next one. But that gives the first and last lines a lot of responsibility, causes lots of pressure. For me, the advice of my wise third-grade teacher works just fine and doesn’t cause as much anxiety. Mrs. Kellen told her class, “The best way to start is to start.”
So that’s what I do. No pressure to create a perfect first sentence. No need for fancy phrasing or affected action. I just start.
So far, that’s worked well in writing. I imagine it would also work in picking up Hot Strangers in a bar. If you try it, let me know?
Meet the author:
Merry Jones is the author of some twenty critically acclaimed books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into seven languages. Her previous Elle Harrison novels have been The Trouble With Charlie and Elective Procedures. Jones lives with her husband in Philadelphia.
Catch Up with Merry online:
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February 1-28, 2017 Tour
Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences―like learning trapeze.
Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.
Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?
Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?
Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.
Genre: Thriller, Suspsense
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: January 3rd 2017
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 1608091910 (ISBN13: 9781608091911)
Series: Elle Harrison Thriller #3 (Each can be read as a Stand Alone Novel)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Merry Jones. There will be 1 winner of one $15 Amazon.com Gift Cards AND 3 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Child’s Play by Merry Jones. The giveaway begins on January 26th and runs through March 3rd, 2017.
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