The First Line

How important is the first line of your story? Will it keep readers on the page long enough to read the second? The third? Is it trite or cliche? Is it memorable?

There are only a few beginning lines that really stand out in my memory as making me want to keep reading. In fact, one of them got me to actually buy the book at a garage sale.

Death drove a green Lexus.

Isn’t that a fabulous opening line? I had to buy the book and find out why Death was driving a green Lexus. I mean, who wouldn’t? This one belongs to veteran author, Dean Koontz, in the book Winter Moon, I believe.

Another that I came across not too long ago is from The Harrowing, by Alexandra Sokoloff: It had been raining since possibly the beginning of time.

While not as stunning as Koontz’s line, it created an indelible impression in my mind of how one feels after endless days of rain. It made me want to read more.

You know right away that sarcastic humor will accompany you through Jim Butcher’s Small Favor with this line: Winter came early that year; it should have been a tip-off.

How do your first lines compare?


Do the Work

I’ve been freelancing for some time, and the one thing I find myself fighting a lot is the idea that editing isn’t needed. That topic has been covered numerous times here and on other writing and editorial blogs. I’m going to take a slightly different take here.

While I applaud the writers out there who realize they need an editor, they also need to make sure they know the mechanics of writing. I am blessed with many clients who not only know the mechanics of writing, they also have a delicious talent for turning a phrase. They can build suspense and create fascinating characters. However, not all writers are created equal.

If you want to write a book, I support you all the way. If you don’t even remember your basic English fundamentals, do yourself and whatever editor you eventually hire a favor and invest in some writing texts. Read them. Live them. Write according to their guidelines.

Are you familiar with punctuation rules? Brush up a bit. Some fun reads that deal with punctuation include Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and Lapsing into a Comma by Bill Walsh. These books teach with humor. There are also some humorous books dealing with parts of speech like The Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon and Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor. Texts like these make learning to write fun.

Once you have a good grasp of sentence structure, paragraphing, and so on, work on your story. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from a writers’ group or beta readers. Take the feedback as the well-intentioned criticism it is. Go back and revise. Then revise again. Few writers can pound out a first draft that is ready for the editor. I certainly don’t know any, and the books we write take several go-rounds with revision.

Be honest with yourself. Once you are finally ready to submit it to an editor, how much editing do you need? If you tell me you only need a light edit and choose that level of work, yet your manuscript really needs a lot more work, you’re not spending your editorial dollars wisely. I find it incredibly frustrating to have to hold myself to a light edit or proofread when the manuscript needs major work. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for the writer as well, when they get a manuscript back covered in red marks and comment balloons, yet the really major issues have not been dealt with. I try to add in a comment at the beginning outlining the suggestions I would make, but I don’t have the ability to address the structural and plumbing issues if I’ve only been hired to dust.

So do the work. Writing isn’t easy. It comes from the heart, and to put it forth adequately, writers need to learn the skills. Like any job, be it medicine, law, or the culinary arts, to really shine, you’ve got to do the work.

It will help your writing, it will help your books, and it will help your readership.

Designing the Book, Pt 3

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on our own print book this week, and I must say, it can be a punishing task if you’re not used to it. While I usually have no problem going through my checklist of items to do on a client’s book, on my own I find myself backtracking, asking myself if I did this or that… I’m a complete basketcase because it’s our book. Maybe it’s because I’m so close to it.

When I work on a client’s book, I have some distance, you know? I can look at it clinically and see the tasks that need to be done. With our own book, I’ve been looking at it so long (writing, editing, revising, formatting ebook, etc) that at times I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.

All that being said, I think we’re finally down to the wire. Getting Wenna to finish the print cover, and I’m writing the back copy. I’m happy with the interior… I’ve used Bookman Old Style for the text and Fertigo Pro for chapter headings. I’m very fond of that typeface. All the headings are in their proper places, I’ve counted out the blank rectos, and the page numbers are working. Don’t have wide white rivers running through my text, margins are set.

I’m almost to the point where I’m ready to begin all over again with another book. Of course, I’ve already been researching for a month or so. Gotta love historical novels with their reams of research. :)

Would you design your own book? If so, what was the most troublesome part for you?