Help me welcome author Sedonia Guillone who is a published author in LBGT and erotic romance. Today she’s going to tell us how to take our first line from boring to BODACIOUS!
One of the most important elements of a great story is a great opening that will hook your reader and make him or her want to keep reading until they reach the satisfying ending. Such a hook is especially important for catching an editor’s eye. Think about it – put yourself in the editor’s place – there’s a mountain of manuscripts needing to be looked through. You’ve been reading for hours, day after day in search of an eye catching manuscript that you feel will appeal to readers of the book’s genre. It doesn’t take long for that process to become numbing.
Then, all of a sudden, the first few lines of the next submission catch your eye. Hmm, there’s something about this story that’s different. The subject matter has been done many times before, but the author’s voice, the high tension and angst of the characters from the first moment lifts your spirits. Maybe, just maybe this one can be published…
Here are a few examples of such a hook:
1. An anonymous phone call came to the Fujian Police Bureau at 1:15 a.m. on that early May night. “Come to Inebriating Money and Intoxicating Gold immediately. Room 135. You will find front page stuff for the Fujian Star.”
(From A Case of Two Citiesby Qiu Xiaolong) – Mystery
2. I never used to keep close track of the phases of the moon. So I didn’t know that it was one night shy of being full when a young woman sat down across from me in McAnally’s Pub and asked me to tell her all about something that could get her killed.
(From Fool Moon, Book Two of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher) – Dark urban fantasy
3. Charlotte Wicks dashed down the third-floor hallway after her younger brother. Unfortunately, at sixteen William was much too fast to catch, and with a mental age of about seven he was much too strong-willed to listen.
“William!” she called again as she spun into their Chinese servant’s room. She skidded to an abrupt stop as she took in the sight before her.
What a large penis! That’s all she could think.
(From Burning Tigressby Jade Lee) Historical erotic romance
4. If I don’t get the hell away from him, he’ll kill me. The thought shuddered through Yuzo’s mind like a mantra. His justification for leaving…no, escaping, this gilded cage he’d willingly gotten locked into.
Yuzo’s hands shook as he hunched over his bathroom vanity, using the wooden handle of his hairbrush to grind up the sleeping pills he’d filched from Taro’s medicine cabinet last night. How he’d managed to pull that theft off was only a testament to his terror and desperation.
(From Men of Tokyo: Sudden Surrenderby Sedonia Guillone) M/M contemporary erotic romance.
As you can see, these opening lines from four diverse authors in three very popular genres each “hit the ground running.” Each time you read the opening you are brought immediately into the story and dying to know what’s going on and what happens next. Aren’t you? I hope so, especially with that last example. <g> This is the kind of sizzle you’ll need to open your story, whether it’s an adventure full of magic and space aliens or a more domestic contemporary.
I have chosen this topic to speak on first because as I’ve been coaching people on their works-in-progress, I’m finding that this is an area strongly in need of developing. I have read pieces about a person with strange psychic abilities who can feel other people’s pain, a young student of magic who get caught up in the evil intrigues of warlocks and other magical beings and a bereaved gay man who hasn’t loved again because he is still mourning his long time lover who is killed in a car crash. Let’s face it – each one of these stories has been done before – to the tune of millions of copies sold (and often films made with super stars in them): i.e.Smoke and Mirrorsby Jayne Ann Krentz, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling andA Single Manby Christopher Isherwood, recently made into a film with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore). If you want your similarly themed piece to stand out and become its own unique retelling, you MUST, I repeat: you MUST hit the ground running or the editor you submit your piece to will toss it into the rejection pile within minutes. Probably less. A seasoned editor who has seen hundreds, if not thousands of manuscripts can usually tell within the first few paragraphs if the piece is something he/she will consider past the first page. Need I say more?
Does this mean your opening paragraph has to contain life-threatening danger in the first sentence? It may, depending on the plot. However, let’s take for example the story I mentioned about the bereaved lover who continues to mourn. (NOT Christopher Isherwood’s story) In the opening paragraph of the story, he wakes up, smiles at his dog and goes into the kitchen to make coffee on a lazy Saturday morning. It is only quite a few paragraphs later when he is talking to his mother on the phone and she’s after him to start dating again that we realize what’s happened and why he’s alone in bed. What could be a really good, angst filled, longing filled story begins with no momentum.
HOWEVER, in the same opening paragraph, have that same man open his eyes to the empty space in the bed and realize he’s facing another day without the love of his life and the ache begins all over again. Voila: you have a story potentially filled with the ache of longing, the grief of death, and the wonder and comfort of actually, miraculously meeting someone who has reawakened his ability to fall in love. But without that initial angst, the power of meeting the new man is watered down.
One more example – the student of magic who goes to a school of wizardry. (NOT Harry Potter) In the opening paragraphs, she is in a club on the weekend, wanting to meet a guy she can date. She spends pages talking to her friend at the club, listening to the music and watching the other people dance. Nothing is really happening. Then a man walks in – he’s hot, she’s drawn to him. And when he gets closer, she sees he’s not the usual clubgoer. This is where something is finally happening – yet, when they meet, there is still nothing significant that happens. The sad part is, there’s a war with warlocks about to happen It’s brewing all this time but nothing happens for pages and pages. The story is chock full of potential for lots of exciting adventure and romance. Also, the heroine is a cross between Harry Potter and Buffy – characters we love and who are strong and fascinating and yet she stands around with a drink joking with her friend and listening to music. A waste of a powerhouse.
However, what if a warlock came into the club and tried to attack our heroine? Then, when the hot guy she’s attracted to comes in and it’s revealed he’s a special agent and helps her fight off another wave of evil warlocks, wow, the pressure is on. Then, when he’s been assigned to protect her and is supposed to stick to her like white on rice and she’s hot for him but well, she’s a grown woman and powerful mage now and doesn’t need his help…well, the sparks fly! You see what I’m getting at, right?
In practice, look at it this way – when you re-read your opening paragraphs, do so from the point of view of a beleaguered, overworked editor who is getting manuscript hypnosis or from the point of view of a reader who is spending her last hard-earned disposable income on one of your books – what kind of experience will they have when reading your opening lines? Do they have something to look forward to? An opening that will draw them into the world of this story and its characters with all their concerns, needs and experiences? Or will they just watch your character listen to music or brush his teeth and then make a cup of coffee, things your readers can perfectly do for themselves and do every day?
RU authors – do you have a favorite first line in one of your books? RU readers – favorite first line of something you’ve read?
Join us on Wednesday for editor Christine Pride!
Bio: Sedonia Guillone is a multi-published author and publisher of erotic romances. Her work is available at Ellora’s Cave, Totally Bound, Red Sage and at her own publishing house, Ai Press Erotic Romances, which also boasts the talents of erotic romance authors D.H. Starr, Madelynne Ellis, Mya and A.J. Llewellyn, to name a few (www.ai-press.net). Please visit her author site, www.sedoniaguillone.com for juicy excerpts and other fun stuff.
- From Hot Starts to Famous Last Words – The importance of a great first line and an awesome ending for your book by Nicola Cornick
- 5 Tips for Writing a Compelling Book Blurb by Amy Wilkins
- Ask an Editor with Theresa Stevens
- Ask an Editor with Theresa Stevens
- Ask An Editor: Understanding Submission Guidelines