Monday, April 23, 2012

Setting the Mood with your First Lines

Your eyes meet across a crowded room of wedding guests, the culmination of a glorious affair decorated with elegance and extravagance. Candlelight and string quartet. And now, the interested gaze of Mr. Tall, Dark, and Dreamy sends your heart into a pitterpatter to put the first strums of Beethoven's 9th Symphony to shame. The mysterious stranger steps toward you, black suit jacket bringing out the depths of his eyes. Could he be British? Italian? Rich? A James Bond wanna-be?

From the trim line of his jaw to the determination in his step, he boasts of confidence and sophistication. His grin sends shivers of anticipation tickling up your spine.
And then, he opens his mouth with the thickest country accent you've ever heard.
"Hey there little darlin'"
The symphony in your head switches to a minor key.
"You're 'bout as purdy as a Thanksgivin' turkey."
The orchestra screeches to a halt.
"You wanna go git some viddles with me and smooch a while?"

What happened? Everything was going so well? The look, the feel, the obvious attraction and then...The mood and expectations did not match reality. AHHHH!

We all know first lines are important for hooking the reader. You can read about those in some previous Alley posts. But first lines also set the mood for things to come.

I've asked the other Alley Cats to share some of their first lines so we can look at how the beginning 'puts you in the mood' for the rest of the story. They help setup your expectations.

Let's start with WOMEN'S FICTION.
Known as the genre which focuses on deep issues related to women, WF is known for its more descriptive and serious tones. Some popular examples are Gina Holmes and Patti Lacy. Here are a few AlleyCat examples:

Casey Herringshaw:
A girl can only take so much truth.
Which is probably why Jenna Hutch crouched in a two-bit cow-town restroom, 200 miles from home—waiting for the pregnancy test to confirm what she already knew.
Her fingertips bleached white and the stick branded her palm in a jagged zig-zag. She held her breath for one beat, then two, lungs clenching like fists. This was taking way longer than it should.
(whew, GREAT hook)

Karen Schravemade:
Maya walked hand in hand with her dead father beneath a sky so blue she surely could not have dreamed it. With every step her sandals scuffed up red dirt. The dust settled between her toes and beneath the cracked vinyl straps of her shoes. She couldn’t remember what had come before this moment, just that she was here, with her Papa once again, her mind empty of questions and heat shuddering from the ground in waves.

Julia Reffner:
"The prophet and the elders have decided it's time you get married." Click, my spine cracked as I pulled my shoulders back.

"Signed by the Prophet himself. Delivered by Elder Tom just this afternoon." Father moved in toward me until his shins brushed the edge of my bed and handed me a manila envelope with my name in black Sharpie letters. He smelled of Vaseline which held his hair in a tight pompadour. After weeding and backhoeing all day, the coiling wave attached itself to his forehead, hiding an angry row of whiteheads.

Mary Vee:
If time really healed all wounds, Liz could have endured the remaining chapters of her life. She longed for pages penned with stories about a large family chattering at an extended dining room table while passing baskets of freshly baked dinner rolls from one relative to the next.
Her stomach growled.

If you'll notice, these novels denote a more serious tone - which sets up the reader for a more serious book. You are more likely to find more descriptives and internal conflict, than in some other genres.

HISTORICAL ROMANCE is next. Within HR, we find the tenents of any romance novel, but set within a historical period of time. HRs can have 'voices' that hint in two general directions. 1. a more serious novel (Laura Frantz would be an example) or 2. a more comedic HR (Mary Connealy writes these). Regardless of the tone taken, the hallmark of historical romances is that they involve ROMANCE that takes place in HISTORY :-)  -so the stage must be set.
Angie Dickens:
My baby sister fit on my hip just above the waistband of my covering. Our skin blended together, a brown shade of the red earth which carpeted our land. When I stepped out into the new day, my feet began to dress themselves in the dust. The sun always surprised my eyes with her bright shine first thing in the morning. I squinted and all the dried mud huts clustered before me, glistening white as if chiseled from the great clouds above.

Though HRs are typically written in 3rd person, Angie has done a great job with 1rst person here. We can tell from her setup that her novel will have more of a serious tone, and descriptive.

Sherrinda Ketchersid:
The lock would not budge.
Jocelyn blew a strand of unruly hair from her eyes and paused to still her racing heart. Nothing prepared her for the trembling of her fingers and the time wasted looking over her shoulder, no matter how many times she practiced in the privacy of her room. Taking a deep breath, she slowly pried the tip of her knife into the lock, listening for the quiet catch of the spring.

Pepper Basham:
There is a distinct difference between marrying a man you do not love and knowing you cannot marry the one you do. As Ashleigh Dougall locked eyes with Sam Turner, the full sting of that truth stripped all doubt. Her dear friend, practically a brother, suddenly evoked a reaction far beyond mere friendliness. Heaven help her. She loved him.

Even through the space of noisy travelers and hurried porters, Sam’s grin tripped her heartbeat and snatched at her breath. She stood transfixed, disbelief vying with denial, but the pull of truth slit between them. How? When? She couldn’t love Sam like this. How long had she ignored the swell of admiration? The grip of heightened awareness of him? His manliness?

She was keenly aware now.

I love how books within the same genre can set such different tones. Angie's book sets a 'portrait' feel, words painting a picture of life. My HR and Sherrinda's begin in the clutches of a person's emotional reaction. Sherrinda's even holds an air of peril. But all take place in a historical era.
CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE is a romance novel set during the 'modern' world - which is usually any time past 1950. Like HRs, CRs can have a more serious tone or comedic tone. Like all romances, the meeting of guy/girl is of upmost importance in the heart of the story. Some popular authors are Rachel Hauck, Denise Hunter, and Susan May Warren.
what kind of mood does Krista Phillips set for you?
God, is it against the rules to want to strangle ones boss?
Even though she was still very new to the whole Christian thing, six months yesterday to be exact, Maddie Buckner was fairly sure that thoughts of murder, even it jest, wouldnt be condoned by the Almighty.

or how about this one by Krista?
Jenny Garrett sank to her knees as someone pounded on her door for a second time.
She sucked in a shaky breath and blew it out. No need to panic. It was probably just a neighbor coming to introduce themselves to the new girl on the block. Or a vacuum salesman. Or a church group handing out tracks, trying to tell her about Jesus even though she’d known him since she was three.
The door knob jiggled.
Or a burglar planning to jump her when she opened the door, tie her up, ransack the place and take everything of worth, then shoot her to eliminate a witness.
Comedy, right?
How about another one.
Pepper Basham:
One step into the massive, glass-walled waiting area was all it took.
In a cataclysmic chain of events, someone bumped into Eisley Barrett from behind sending her purse and all its contents skittering across Heathrow International Airport’s glossy floor. Just as she regained her balance, her heel caught on her purse strap, forcing her off kilter. She liked comedy, but this was ridiculous.
In horrific slow motion, forward momentum merged with gravity, the crowd parted like the Red Sea, and she landed face-first on the floor.
Well, not exactly on the floor. Somebody broke her fall.

Sherrinda Ketchersid:
Emilie Burke hated blind dates, and happy-in-love, matchmaking friends.
She paused at the artsy mosaic door of the trendy downtown restaurant. The smell of heated spices and a smoky grill that filled the air almost made this possible fiasco worthwhile. Why had she said yes?
The same reason she always said yes. She was an impulsive people-pleaser.

Can't you just feel the difference between the WF and HR and the Romantic Comedy examples? In Contemporary Romance the sentences are usually a bit shorter, there are fewer descriptives, and dialogue plays a big part in the novel.
But not all CRs have to be humorous.

Here is an example from Cindy Wilson's novel:

I was twenty-seven when I met my fairy godmother.
He stood 6 feet tall, with an eagle tattoo eclipsing the upper half of his right arm, and bold red and blue decorating alternating spikes of his Mohawk.
Oh, and he was a librarian.

Doesn't that just get your attention and make you want to keep reading?
How about a few first lines from very different genres?
Speculative Fiction:
Sophia Quinn hated starting new assignments with insufficient information. Especially if lack of knowledge led to her death, or worse, someone else’s immortality.
We know it's contemporary because of the wording. We know it's speculative because of the phrase "or worse, someone else's immortality". The setup is there, and it's the author's job to stick with the 'mood'.

Young Adult:

“There’s not enough frappachinos in the world to make me go out on another triple date with you two.” Emilie Burke stuffed her art pencils into her tattooed backpack and slung it over her shoulder, resisting the urge to run out of the classroom, away from her well-meaning but deluded friends.
Fantasy (YA)
Magic breathed beneath the castle’s library stairs. Karth was sure of it – though he’d never admit it out loud. Eighteen year old princes did not believe in magic, no matter how otherworldly the situation, but as the black abyss under the stairs mesmerized his thoughts those childish haunts tickled at the edge of his logic.
Can you feel the difference? What do you write and how do set the mood?

Pepper Basham is a Blue Ridge Mountains’ native, mom of five, pastor’s wife, and university instructor. She writes in various fictional genres but spices them all with grace and humor. She is a 2011 Genesis double-finalist and can be found at The Writers Alley, her personal blog-, or in her imaginary world. Company always welcome.


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

You did a great job compiling these, Pepper! Loved your reflections on the different genres. Such awesome first lines!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Well that was a fun way to begin the day -- and the week! Loved all the opening scenes.


Melanie Dickerson said...

I love reading first lines! So fun. Such a talented bunch of writers here in the Alley. :-)

Pepper said...

Thanks, Karen. It was so much fun - and inspiring.
Look at all these wonderfully talented people?

Pepper said...

So glad to start your week off with a smile!

Pepper said...

Thanks, Melanie. Aren't these fabulous! :-)

Unknown said...

Oh, this was fun! Now I want to read everyone's stories. :) I love first lines...and it was fun to see the differences between genres. Fun stuff!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Pepper, I love your opening to this post--purdy as a Thanksgiving turkey! I LOVE it!

First lines are so fun, and those were great. I used to hate writing first lines, now I love writing them. Wish I could sit there and do that all day instead of trying to actually formulate and write a whole story :)

Pepper said...

amen, Cindy!

I could do the same thing. So much fun!

Joanne Sher said...

Great stuff, Pepper - and I SO love your opening.

Laura Frantz said...

Oh, I LOVE this peek at first lines and getting a feel for what the books are about - WOW:) First lines are among my favorite things to write and read and you all have some killer openers here! I'm getting ready to begin another story so will take what you've said to heart - and NOT slather my suave hero in a thick country accent;)

Pepper said...

So glad you liked the opening :-) It was fun to write. LOL

Pepper said...

Now Laura, are you sure you can't give the hero a little bit of Kentucky accent. That's pretty thick too :-)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Loved the way you baited us with the hunk then dropped the bomb. Great point.
Fun to see all the other first lines.
Thanks for the fun post.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Great post. Like Mel said, it makes me want to read all of these stories!

Pepper said...

So glad my point worked! :-)
Not that country fellas can't be hunky and smart. I have one in my WIP!

Pepper said...

Oh Lindsay, you just made our day! Words that goes straight to a writer's heart :-)

Unknown said...

Yep, I agree. I laughed out loud (good thing my kids were at school) when the hunk in the beginning of your post began speaking. I loved the way you showed and described things to consider for the first lines in different genres.

What fun getting to read the Alley Cats' first lines. I'm still honing the skill of writing a good one. These examples were great, as were your tips. Thanks, Pepper.

Casey said...

Oh goodness! I just might skitter away should some Tall Dark and Handsome spoke like that to me! Smooch, might be a little strong for a first date, buddy. ;-)

You're tooo funny.

LOVE first lines. LOVE posts about them. Like Beth said, great way to start the week. :D

Pepper said...

YAY Jeanne!
You guys are really building my ego for writing rom com ;-) Which I LOVE to write, btw.

so glad to fill your morning with laughter :-)

Unknown said...

I noticed all the first lines mentioned as an example gave a description of something, however I think the four lines of speech in the beginning of the post were most memorable.

What experiences do you have with speech or a dialogue in the very first line?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Pepper!!! Loved your opening and laughed at the fun accent of the guy. I so love your humor. :)

Great first lines, gals!

Ashley Clark said...

This was a great blog idea, Pepper! Loved reading everyone's lines. :)

Pepper said...

Our Penguin In Havana,
Dialogue is a great way to start a story. It usually means you are beginning the novel with 'action' - which is one of the best ways to 'hook'the reader :-)

Pepper said...

You just like to laugh in general!
But I"m so glad to be the instigator for it today :-)

Pepper said...

The only thing that would have made it better is YOUR first lines :-)
You're a rom com girl too, ain't cha?

Angie Dicken said...

Fun to see everyone's first lines (I am very lucky, because I have the honor of seeing Ashley's as her crit partner!).
Maybe we should have the readers spotlighted one of these days, with their first lines? Fun, FUN!

Pepper said...

GREAT idea, Ang!!
Ooo, I sense a new blog post in the making :-)

Marney McNall said...

Loved these!

Unknown said...

These are all so good! And that opening...LOL.

That YA one is my fave! :)