Monday, May 7, 2012

Setting the Mood With Your First Lines - Part TWO

Hi all. Pepper here and I’m talking about first lines and genres again today because….

I get to brag about some of our Alley Pals and their work.
Two weeks ago I posted about first lines and genres using some of our very own AlleyCats’ work as fodder. Today, it’s time to show off more talent from a few of our subscribers.
If you remember from my last post, first lines ‘set the stage’ for the rest of your novel. By the end of the first page, even the first paragraph, a readers should know what sort of book their getting themselves into J

Your first few lines are your biggest hooks and can even be a tool for some of your very first foreshadowing. Let's look at a few examples from published authors.
I love Julie Lessman’s books and she has a FABULOUS first line in her debut (award winning) novel, A Passion Most Pure.

Boston, Massachusetts, late summer, 1916
Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it.

What do we know about this novel already?

1.       It’s historical (and because we know it’s Julie Lessman we KNOW romance is burning at the seams of the novel)

2.       There’s going to be a bit of dry humor in it just from the first lines

3.       Sibling rivalry is inevitable (and that’s an example of some foreshadowing in the VERY first line) isn’t that GREAT!

We’re already setup for the story.

Or what about Beth Pattillo’s wonderful Jane Austen rewrites. Here’s the first few sentences from Mr. Darcy Ruined My Life.

I pulled the well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice from my tote bag and stowed the bag under the seat in front of me. Last time I flew to England, I’d been in first class with Edward, my ex. First class, where they insist that you accept hot towels and champagne along with extra blankets and pillows. Now I was in coach with my knees pressed up against the seat in front of me and the Battery Kind of Seattle at my left elbow. As it turned out, the only thing worse than having the man snore was having him wake up and start talking to me again.
What do we know?
1.       It’s contemporary

2.       There’s some sarcasm going on here too

3.       Heartbreak in the past and a trip to England in the present. Romance is DEFINITELY in the future.

Fabulous, the expectation has been set and the novel WILL deliver.
Speaking of Jane Austen – how did the classic novelist do it?

Pride and Prejudice’s well-loved beginning is this: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters.

What do we know?
1.       Contemporary for Austen’s time – historical for ours.

2.       Romance? Well, if she’s chatting about husbands and wives within the first line, it’s a good sign.

3.       Witty humor? You betcha!

So now it’s your turn. Let’s look at a few NEW lines from friends of the Alley and see if we can draw conclusions about genre and ‘feel’ based on those.

Thirteen years old. An adult in Hebrew society.

But Michal's actions showed the opposite. She was remarkably helpless. Remarkably stubborn. Remarkably spoiled. Ashia's job was not, it seemed, to serve a young lady, but a toddler in a woman's body. And today promised to be full of tantrums.

Ooo, great start. So what can we guess from this?

1.      Biblical fiction.

2.      A little more serious, but a definite hook of interest.

3.      How will Michal change? And what will this tantrum look like? Curiosity forces me to want to read the next paragraph.

Julie Hilton Steele sent this one in:

“The key works best if you turn it.” Anna Newman froze at the sound of the deep, warm voice cascading down from somewhere behind her”

1.       I have an inside scoop to this. She’s probably begin the chapter with a ‘hint’ of a date, which would be some time during WWII. So it’s a historical piece.

2.       It certainly has a flare of mystery within the first two lines.

3.       Why is she using a key? Who is coming up behind her? Inquiring minds want to know. Good sign.

 From the computer of Mary Curry (and she tells us a lot with only ONE sentence)

There was nothing like a week-long vacation to make you need a month off.

1.       Most likely contemporary from the references
2.       A hint of humor (and a whole lot of truth J
3.       What kind of vacation would make the main character respond this way?

How about this one by Mary:

Mental illness ran in my mother’s family, or so my dad always claimed. You can see why I didn’t really think I could go to him for help when the visions started.

Hmm…. What can we guess?
1.     Contemporary
2.     Hint at spec fiction or fantasy with the whole ‘visions’ idea
3.     What sort of visions?

Carol Moncado sent in this one.
She was wearing an eye patch.
At church.
On Easter.

What do we know?

1.      Most likely contemporary

2.      Humor…without a doubt

3.      How on earth did she get an eyepatch? Curiosity pushes us to read more!

How about something a little 'different'? :-)
Ben Erlichman, 2011 Genesis Finalist and NEW DAD, sent this one:

Blood oozed from a bullet hole in Tommy Roebuck's chest, saturating the dust under his body.

AND yet another one:

Hunger drove Raven Worth to the big tent revival that night, but it wasn't what made him stay. Usually in such a public gathering he'd have lurked just beyond the edge of the crowd to scan the fringes for stragglers. In other settings he'd often harvest the ones who looked the most destitute or lonely. He could relate to them. He knew their pain.

(Isn't that a great protagonist's it)

1. Contemporary
2. Darker flare, maybe murder mystery or thriller
3. Okay - so who shot Tommy Roebuck and who is this dark and creepy 'lurker' named Raven Worth?
How do you set the stage?

It’s Alley Pals show off day so bring your first few lines and let us guess. Are you setting up the reader in the way you want? Does the genre match what we guess?

Some are going to be harder to guess than others, but let’s give it a try.
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 can be found at The Writers Alley,, or in her imaginary world. Company always welcome.


Angie Dicken said...

Ooh, it's a first that I am the first to comment! I love reading lines from the subscribers. Great stuff! I will never read another first line again without Pepper's voice in my head saying, "What do we know?" :) Good post!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Love this blog series, Pepper. So many good first lines. And, yes, I am so, so curious about that eye patch.
Tell me more, Carol.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

What a fun idea!

Loving the chance to peek over some shoulders at what's on your writing desks. What a great variety of voices and styles.

More, more! Go on, be brave! :-)

Carol Moncado said...

Ah, Beth, my beautiful friend... you know the story of the eyepatch!!!

And those opening lines have been on this blog, my blog, the Pentalk blog and a couple dozen COTT partners. Guess I should probably write the novel to go with it someday ;).

Actually, it's a work in progress and will get written one off these days!

Thanks for letting me join the fun, Pepper! [though I notice you didn't use the spicy one ;)]

Pepper said...

You will hear my voice in your head?
I'm so sorry

Pepper said...

I'm sure if you ask Carol, she'll be MORE THAN HAPPY to spill the beans.
She's SUCH an introvert!

Pepper said...

Oh - I see she's already been here to clarify

I'll save the 'spicy' lines for another know, about Appalachia or dialects or something cute like that :-)

Patty Wysong said...

First lines are great! I love reading them and savoring them. =]

And what fun to Joanne's first lines. Woot!

You said to bring first lines, right? Okay, so here's mine (still waiting to be editted!!)

Lexi roared onto the job site, a cloud of dust trailing her bumper. She grinned in the rear view mirror and jerked the wheel hard to left as she let off the gas and coasted into the spot under the lone tree. Perfect.

Unknown said...

How fun to read Alley Pals' first lines! :) I'm not sharing the very first line from my book, but here's the first line/paragraph from my second POV's first scene. :) I love reading what everyone has written!

He’d have to pull his Super Man act to get to Anya’s Christmas party before it ended. Kevin’s tires screeched into the driveway of their Highlands Ranch home. He cranked off the engine. Working on the Kolb building project consumed his afternoon and eaten into the evening. He’d lost track of time. Maybe he could redeem himself with Anya if he arrived before the festivities ended. He watched snowflakes land on the windshield before opening his silver Ford Explorer door.

Unknown said...

Love all these! What fun... :)And yeah, the eye patch story needs to be written. Seriously.

Pepper said...

Oooh, Patty - I love the way you set the stage with your first lines.

What do we know?
1. Contemporary
2. A bit of humor?
3. You've already given us some strong assumptions about this character...she doesn't conform, she likes to 'play' and maybe even cause a bit of a stir :-) Love it!

Pepper said...

Love the first line! Super-man act is a great 'visual' :-)
What do we know?
1. Contemporary
2. There seems to be a bit of tension, maybe more serious?
3. How is Anya going to respond? What's this project he's working on that requires so much time?

Questions, questions.... :-)

Joanne Sher said...

So so VERY fun (and extremely cool) to be on the blog today - Pepper's WONDERFUL. And I'm NOT "analyzing" Patty's first lines, cuz I know the book WAY too well to be objective. But I CAN give Jeanne's a try...

1. Contemporary
2. Some humor for sure
3. Definitely got me wondering about the relationship between these two - guessing it will be a BIG issue in the story - maybe even the main issue.

Unknown said...

Interesting first lines! I find choosing first lines one of the most difficult things there is. I mentioned dialogue in a previous comment. So here's what I'm considering as an opening dialogue:

Things were going well so far, I figured. The music wasn’t too loud and I could still walk straight.

“Hi,” I said.
“What made you wear those striped pants?” She asked.
“I want to be a zebra.” The words were out before I could stop them.
“Trust me,” she said. “You don’t want to be a zebra.”
“Should I?” Her eyes were so shiny I wanted to touch them.
“No, you don’t want to be a zebra.”
“No, should—” I looked at her black dress and back up again. “Should I trust you when it comes to zebras?”

Cindy R. Wilson said...

GREAT first lines. Yay, keep them coming! So fun to see how creative and clever you all are :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Jeanne, do you live near Highlands Ranch? If you do, we're practically neighbors :)

Pepper said...

Another Alley Pal, Regina Merrick, sent me this one:

Who needs a man when I have a great big hunk of dog to keep me company?” - Carolina Dream, Regina Merrick (complete, unpublished)

What do we know?
1. Contemporary - most likely
2. I'm guessing there's some humor going on in it too, ya think?
3. What would cause a cute southern gal like this to have given up on 'a man'?

Unknown said...

Soooo fun to see first lines and guesses. :) Love this series, Pepper!

Cindy, I'm about an hour south of Highlands Ranch. I didn't realize you were so clse to me! :)

Ashley Clark said...

Great post, Pepper! And first lines really are so important! Sometimes I get anxious about finding just the right note, but these lines usually come to me just as I'm about to fall asleep at night.... sometimes I even pull out my phone and text them to myself! Ha!

Julia M. Reffner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia M. Reffner said...

Love reading these! They definitely make me curious about the stories to come.

Yvonne Blake said...

I have trouble with my first lines, but I think I've finally got some I like.

Madgi—I am madgi.
An icy blast of wind stung Maseppequa's face. She leaned her forehead against the back of the man. His coat smelled of sweat and dead animals. The stench made her stomach cramp.

Casey said...

Fun post! I love Mary's first line. Wow! No wonder she won the Genesis last year. AWesome lines. A lot of thought put into those.

Carol always makes me giggle and wonder what in the world is going on. ;-)

Pepper said...

Thanks, Joanne.
It certainly was fun to read people's 'firsts' :-) And they ARE hard to write. The pack such a punch we need them to be special...careful!

Pepper said...

Whoa, Our Penguin-
What an interesting beginning! I like dialogue too because it immediately pulls a person into your story AND into the lives of the characters.
Let's guess about yours, shall we? It's a tough one.
1. Contemporary? (maybe there are zebra pants in historical books, but usually not :-)
2. Humor? With an 'otherworldy' element. Perhaps fantasy?
3. Two words: Zebra pants! :-)

Pepper said...

What is it about that 'almost' asleep creativity? I get that too adn then the REAL battle begins.
Get out of bed and capture the thought or stay in the bed, nice and snug, and (inevitably) the thought is gone by morning.

Texting it to myself is a nice 3rd option :-)

Ashley Clark said...

Oh yeah, I do that all the time! Because I hate whenever you tell yourself "I'll remember that tomorrow morning" and never do. That's the WORST feeling!

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, BUMMER!!! I posted a comment this morning that acted like it took, but apparently it didn't so here we go again ...

LOVE this post, Pep, because I am SUCH a sucker for first lines, so THANK YOU for including me, my friend, AND for your kind words!!

Absolutely LOVED the first lines of Joanne, Julie, Mary and Carol -- you guys ROCK!!! I'm praying they hook an editor or two ... ;)


Unknown said...

Hi Pepper,

Zebra pants and fantasy? I once tried writing fantasy thinking it would be easy and ended up suffocating in the endless details I wrote down myself. (How) Would the following lines change your mind?

“Don’t trust me.” She said and laughed. “But don’t be a zebra.”
I was silent for one or two seconds: did I actually know why I wanted to be a zebra in the first place?
“You’re silly, I would be a great zebra,” I said.
“I would be a great zebra, you would be mediocre," she said.
I tried to tilt my head in the same subtle manner she tilted hers. “Do you even know how cheeky you are?”

(But I don't know if quoting so many lines of an opening is cheating.)

Mary Curry said...

Hi Pepper!

What a fun post. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for when I answered your plea. ;)

I love reading all these first lines.

Pepper said...

Wow - what a first line. Let's see how my 'guessing' goes :-)
1. Historical?
2. Serious tones, Native American or...a fantasy realm.
3. What on earth is madgi? Good hook into my curiosity :-)

Pepper said...

Don't you know that's why I HAD to use your first line. APMP's first line is TREMENDOUS and a great example to help lead into the first two books. Wonderful!

Pepper said...

Our Penguin,
Let me see if I can guess a little better.
1. Contemporary
2. Flirting? Romantic repartee? I'm assuming the 'first person' is from a male POV?
3. Question - is it intended for a young adult audience or adult?

Pepper said...

LOL -sorry Mary, it is kind of scary when you answer my plea :-)

Anonymous said...

Ah I struggle a lot with first lines and first chapters but here's one of mine that I like

"Leroy didn’t bother to turn as the wooden porch door behind him creaked open. He heard Zach coming all the way from the living room.
Are you going to keep hovering, or are you going to take a seat?”

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh my goodness!!!! I am so late to this awesome first line party! Look at all the awesome writers we have at The Alley! Seriously!

Pepper, you sure do think of the most creative posts! Well done!