Wednesday, October 15, 2014

START Where the STO-ry Be-Gins

HOW to get a-WAY with MUR-der

No, this post isn't about writing murder mysteries. It's about great beginnings that "start where the story begins."
This recent TV series starring Viola Davis (The Help) opened to a roaring beginning. The way she says the title, "HOW to get a-WAY with MUR-der," might be the most clever way to open a series ever. I read that the producers and Viola worked a long while to get the cadence and the emphasis just right. And, wow, did they ever. I listen for that before every episode.

What grabs your attention when you choose a book? It's been argued that the cover is most important, or the blurb alone determines whether you read it or not, or perhaps the first line, the first paragraph, or the first chapter.

Or if the book starts "Where the Story Begins."

Beginnings. That's what it's all about--how to make a reader choose your book. For this little exercise, I have chosen first lines from ten books written by author friends or acquaintances. In other words, this list does not contain, "It was the best of times, it was..." Or with the weather. You get the picture.

Want to take this poll? Read the ten lines and choose three you like best, or those you think would make you buy the book. Rank your three choices  using the letters...and tell me in a comment. If you want to take the time, tell me why your first choice caught your attention.

List them in order of best first in your comment. Ready?

A-The front door slammed shut, silencing Lizzy's eighteenth birthday celebration.

B-"He has walled us in alive! Our own lord has abandoned us!"

C-Gideon entered his sister's crowded SoHo gallery in Manhattan and glanced at his watch.

D-"Reese, if you weren't dead, I swear I'd kill you!"

E-Her swift fingers rushed over the keys like a flood of water tumbling over a dam.

F-"Sorry you got shot, Cole. Damn, this is gonna mess up all our plans."

G-Dallas McClintock sprawled on the ground, three rifle barrels pointed at his chest.

H-'...but other women my age have a lover.'

I-"Don't kill me! Please!"
J-Absorbed in her thoughts about Mark, the man who jilted her on what was to be her wedding day, she almost drove past the baby grand piano sitting out in the front yard of a little cottage.

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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  1. My choices: I - F - D.
    All of the lines were interesting, but you said choose just 3.

    Mine were all action or violence. I might be a terrible person.

    I like your blog, BTW.

  2. G, F, D for my money. I think starting with a dilemma or the promise of a dilemma is the best way to get the reader hooked. You may not be a fan of science fiction but if you are, Celia, you might remember the original Star Trek series always started with a crisis or problem and them spent the rest of the hour dealing with it. They hooked you in the first five minutes and of course you had to watch the rest to see how they solved their issue. I think that formula works the best for novels, too.

  3. Ha! I must be a terrible person, too.

    Thanks, Celia. I loved reading these first lines and imagine my surprise to find one of mine in there. I'm honored!

  4. All good ones! And I see one of mine in there! You always have the best blog posts, Celia--and you always make me think.

  5. Oh gosh! They're all good ones. But, I'd go with D, G, I, in no particular order.

  6. B-D-I
    The first sounds chilling, the second sounds like a fun read, the last was interesting.

  7. Liked all of them, Celia, but if I had to choose 3 they would be

  8. Marie--Oh, I don't think you're a terrible person. Action...and maybe violence...always gets attention.
    I'm glad you like my blog--thanks so much for visiting.

  9. JD McCall--You're right--a dilemma is a great way to begin a novel. I do remember the Star Trek movies--loved those--and yes, how they began with a crisis of some sort.
    Long before I ever picked up a romance novel, I read either science fiction or westerns--endlessly.
    But I accidentally picked up a Western Romance...and pushed SF and Westerns aside-not really--my romances are mostly westerns.
    Thanks for visiting!

  10. Hey, Jacquie! I'm glad you stopped by or you wouldn't have notice a first line from your "Much Ado About Marshals." I love that first line! I think you're a master of first lines.
    Thanks for the visit.

  11. Cheryl--I had to get yours in there--what a great opening line. You begin stories much like Jacquie does--with some kind of action or crisis. I need to remember that and practice it more.
    Thanks for visiting me today.

  12. Liette--you're holding true to form. Most everyone chose those with violence or action. Thanks so much for participating!

  13. Linda--I'm glad you chose B. I thought more readers scares me! Thanks for coming by.

  14. Agnes--I though A held much intrigue in those first words. I could picture the scene..and wonder who slammed the door? I though it was particularly good.
    Thanks for your input.

  15. Ohmagosh, I saw one of mine in there and now I want to rewrite the dang thing.
    You always have the most interesting blogs, Celia; they entertain and inform us.

  16. Sarah--I can't remember which was yours. I though it was from one of the Banjo books, but I can't find it on Amazon. I found For Love of Banjo--not that one--what was the other one?
    Thanks for commenting. Listen, I wish I could re-write several of my books. I think when we get rights returned does give us a second chance.
    I've had several returned--some because I wanted them, but a couple of others because the publisher sold out. One is a contemporary, more women's fiction that straight romance...and I'm dying to find time to re-write that one and get it back out.

  17. What fun! I'm always hooked by an opening, or I pass. Sometimes if I'm a fan of the author's work, I'll hang in there for a page or two, but that's about it. There's a reason they call first lines "hooks."

    Great post, Celia!

  18. J-I-G I like romances and mysteries, depending on my mood.

  19. Maggie--this made me re-think how to open a story. I know this, but forget when I actually begin to write. My biggest seller of all times if the 99cent Dime Novel--pubbed in 2011 and still gives me a nice bit of change every quarter--begins with:
    "Git up, boy."
    He's speaking to a man in jail.
    Is this the reason it sells so well? Or is it Jimmy Thomas on the cover???

  20. Morgan--I'm glad you selected J because I thought that was one of the more intriguing openings. Not really action, and most readers seem to prefer, but it was different. When I read it first, the last big about the grand piano in the yard made me stop and re-read that.
    Thanks for coming by.

  21. I must confess I don't like the 'violent' ones and avoid stories that start with guns.
    J is probably my favourite, although I'd leave out the 'telling' clause (i.e. 'the man who jilted her etc), and go straight to the piano - after all, that's not something you see every day, is it?

  22. Paula--Good observation. I liked J because it was so different. You'd think all of us live in a violent world over here, as much as we like violence and action in some books. But the majority of us live in quiet stable neighborhoods and towns, never having experienced anything close to what we write. Thanks for your comment--I'm glad you did.

  23. Celia, I know from all the times I have visited family and friends in the USA that your lives are pretty similar to ours. Here, however, only the criminal element possesses guns which, basically, are illegal for 'ordinary' people (as we don't have the infamous 2nd Amendment or the NRA!). Thinking about it, the only guns I have seen in my whole life have been in museums -and on TV and films, of course!

  24. Celia, thanks for including one of mine in your list. I'm honored. Love your post.

  25. Caroline--The Texan's Irish Bride. Uh-huh, I remember that one. Great beginning. In fact I would say all of yours have very good beginnings..action, mostly..some violence. All attention-getters.
    Thanks for commenting.

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  27. Talk about timing. Wow.
    I opened my Sweet Sunshine file this morning and became curious as to what the other authors were up to.
    Imagine my surprise to see a line from my book on this list.
    Thank you. You just gave me a much needed pick-me-up. ♥

  28. Great post, Celia. I'm just now catching up on my emails that are links to blogs. I also want to let you know I just read your post back in April about sensitivity/insensitivity and enjoyed your insights very much.

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott