This week on my own blog we've talked about openings to your novel and how even the first line can set tone, mood, hooking the reader into buying your book. Just go to Amazon.com and you can find books for sale there where they allow you to read the first chapter for free.(And sometimes authors themselves offer the free chapter on their websites and on guest blogs.) That's smart marketing.
If you fail to capture your reader in that first chapter, then no sale. Your first reader will be that editor (or his assistant,) so it better hook fast. All beginning and experienced authors understand this. And all fight to get that hooking first line into fertile waters for a big reel-in.
We could argue that many people so spend much time on the first three chapters, they then forget to polish up the rest of the story. True that. It happens. But unless your first lines hook, well, end of the story, anyway.
A few years ago a bunch of writers who call themselves ChiLibris decided to write a collection of stories to demonstrate how different writers can take a single idea and weave just as many unique stories. But they also show another concept in these stories and that is how they can take a single line, "The wind was picking up," and go from there hooking readers with their second line, and the first paragraph.They may all start with the same first line, but how did they each make that line his own?
Here's a sampling from that book from authors you may be familiar with (and who invariably kept in their own brand and voice.)
(What the Wind Picked Up: Proof That a Single Idea Can Launch a Thousands Stories from the Novelists of ChiLibris, iUniverse, ISBN 0-595-34113-6. $13.95.)
Each story starts with the same line, "The wind was picking up."
1. "Dog huddled closer to the building, shivering, empty belly aching. The concrete surface offered little shelter from the biting wind." (Burl's Gift by Karen Ball.)
2. "Garth Himmelfarb headed right into it. This was his first night out on a new exercise regimen--brisk walk around the mall, then home--but he was already feeling fatigue." (Hero by James Scott Bell)
3. "We were in the mouth of the Severn River, sailing east toward the Chesapeake Bay at a frightening speed, tilted to the right at a twenty-degree angle. I loosened the the dinghy's mainsheet, but the little sailboat continued to dig its leeward rail into the water." (The Dubious Dinghy by Ron and Janet Benrey)
4. "Judge Hiram T. Young leaned toward the diminutive woman in the witness stand. 'You shot your husband because the wind was picking up?'" (Reinventing Love by Stephen Bly)
5. "Or so it seemed. Palms swayed gently in the virtual breeze. Simulated waves washed upon silicon sand, cut by Higgins' landing craft and the Japanese battleship Hiei. Overhead, Zeroes tangled with Corsairs, while 'Val' dive bombers rained 500-pound death on U.S. troops diving for dubious coved of the bamboo huts of Guadalcanal." (Cyberspace Savior by Jefferson Scott)
This is a great exercise. Choose one of the genres above (or your favorite genre) and craft an opening starting with "The wind was picking up." Note above how the author created mood, pace, even genre in just a line or two. Think about themes, and how each author expresses so much in just their first paragraph.
Don't be afraid to share your first lines here in this exercise. What would YOU do if you were given an assignment like this? These were short stories, but the same thing happens with a long story, too--even nonfiction pieces must have that lead, that hook, that opening line which pulls you to read the next paragraph, sink $14.99-$29.95 into yet another book, turn the page even though you're supposed to be meeting with your honey at that restaurant.
At the end of this book the authors gave advice on maintaining a writing career and a valuable lesson learned. The price of the book is worth that. If you do pick up this book (and I think it's still for sale,) or you already have it, try jotting some notes on each story, underlining elements of each story, circling genre word choices, and make note of the themes.
So is anyone willing to share how he would write an opening using the first sentence, "The wind was picking up," ??? I'd love to see what you'd do.
Bonus: What genre would you write it in?