First Liners – How to ‘pick-up’ on your readers. *wink, wink*

Image-2

I was tagged in a writing challenge to share the first line in my first three chapters on my work in progress. I chose to share from one of my YA fantasy novels.

First sentences are everything. They set the tone, the voice, the setting — they must hook the reader. Some people mull over and stress about this solid first line for months, maybe years. The daunting first sentence can become a wall that makes it so you never even want to start your novel. My advice would be to start anyway. Don’t think about fancy phrasing, or perfect eye catching action. Just start and let the words flow. Then go back and fix things. Personally, I love the itchy fingers when I think of a new idea. Sure I’ve written and re-written first lines over and over again, but this was usually after I’ve finished the book or the chapter.

The best advise I have received about a opening sentence, was the critiquing during a publication primer group. I also entered into a first chapter competition at the same time, and the feedback from the judges were exactly the same.

Below is my old first sentence, followed by the new first sentence. See if you can catch the difference.

Chapter 1
Old:
We ran, dodging cornstalks as if they were spears rooting into the land.
New:
I stood on a bluff overlooking our lower pastures. Against the scarlet horizon, chaos erupted from the small town.

I was dead set on the original sentence, thinking it was perfect to start with action. But the advise and feedback I received was that I needed a setting. “We ran” didn’t tell the reader anything about where they were, or what time frame we were in. In fact, the word “spears” made them think that the setting could be in ancient times, which was totally not the case. After that was brought to my attention, it was fun for me to create a one page scene before my characters ran. It still starts out with plenty of action, but my characters are witnessing it, rather then running from it.

Here are my first lines from Chapters Two and Three. (I’ve switched points of view in Chapter two, just so you know)

Chapter 2
“Master Caul, it is time to serve your birthday cake,” a timid voice carried from the doorway. As I glared out the window, my fingers gripped around the tapestry with one hand. I lifted the other to wave her away.
Chapter 3
Stepping out of the Ark and onto the ground above, grey ash fell soft like snow-flakes on a melancholy night.

* Now for my favorite first sentences in all of history, and I swear if my husband said this to me as a cheesy pick-up line when we first met, I would have said “yes!” right then and there. This shows a little glimpse into how much I love Tolkien. This is from The Hobbit. These opening sentences have everything; setting, senses, voice, character, and if you know the rest of the story which is filled with adventure, how perfectly humble it is to start inside a hole in the ground. It leaves us asking “what is a hobbit? I must read more to find out.” That my friends, is a hook.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down or eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.”

If you’ve got a first line you’d like to share, I’d love to read it in the comments below 🙂

– Tara

Gardening and Writing – how they relate.

I love to garden. I’ve always kept my fingernails as stubs because the feel of dirt between my fingers, invigorates me.

I’ve posted how teaching guitar and writing relate HERE.
I’ve posted how skiing and writing relate HERE.

Now I want to make the connection with writing and gardening.

I’ve worked on and off in garden centers for over fifteen years. I’ve narrowed it down to five stages of being successful in a garden and how it relates to writing.

0eebd4f2537075591efd973aeeb40333

1-

*Planning your garden:
Is it North facing? – re-think. How is the soil? – enrichment is key. What plants do you want to see in the fall? Think ahead. Envision your garden in its bounteous splendor! Envision what that homemade salsa is going to taste like. Can you taste it? “Hmm… maybe another plant of cilantro is needed.”

Envision your full grown garden.

*Planning your novel:
Basic bones here. Is it sci-fi, fantasy, romance, children’s, young adult?
Some authors are outliners. Some authors are pantsers. I am a hybrid between the two. I am too spontaneous to completely stick to an outline. When a scene strikes, I have to write it right then, on a napkin if I have to, just to get it out.
But, I am also a loose outliner. I have the outline to my novels hanging as butcher paper on my bedroom walls. Read more about that process HERE.
Also, when I write a scene, I have an outline below my cursor so I know where the story is going. If a word, or phrase, or dialogue strikes me and I am not in that part of the story yet, I put it in my bottom notes that just moves along with my writing.

Envision your story.

3a79c538bd7ca8e6bf1c5db5fb781d45

2-

*Planting your garden:

These little seedlings look so small and helpless. They need good soil, fertilizer, sunlight, water, and some need staking. It is a lot of hot, dirty work. (the part I love)

Set your baby plants up for success!

*Planting your novel:
We all start out uneducated and naive. We need to do the work and learn the craft. So go to conferences, join a critique group (or three, like me), build relationships in the writing world. It is a lot of work, and sometimes this stunts the creative flow, but your writing will get better.

Set your novel up for success!

IMG_2945

3-

*Caring for your garden:
Sometimes the plants just need to grow. Make sure they are taken care of, then leave them alone to do their thing. You can love plants to death. In fact, I saw that more often, then with the neglected plants. Root rot is the cause of many a poor plants death.

Step away for a time!

*Caring for your novel:
After you have finished the novel, or the scene, or whatever you feel is done – leave it alone. Work on something else, go to classes, learn, get second opinions. Come back and look at it with new eyes. You will notice things that were not there before. This is so important to me. I often get so wrapped up in the details and the thrill of putting words on paper, that I don’t see the overall problems.

Step away for a time!

ee509389207acfe59e8794b4bef0bdfc

4-

*Harvesting your garden:
This is the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! You can see what plants did well and what struggled. Take notes for next year. You can share your bounty. (I mean who has ever had zucchini growing out of their ears!)

Share your talent and hard work!

*Harvesting your novel:
You have accomplished something that 81% of people say they will do, but 2% of people actually pull through! That is a huge accomplishment! Don’t focus on other people. Be happy with what you have accomplished. It took many seasons, rainstorms, weeds, bugs, whatever, to get to the end result.

Now share your talent and hard work!

616f84696069bd59cc9f2af6bc76acb4

5-

*Canning your harvest: (this is bonus)
Once you’ve harvested your garden, toiled endlessly over it, now is the time to package it into pretty canning jars.

This is for the future.

*Canning your novel:
No matter how you go about publishing, whether it be with a big or small publisher, self-publish, or just print a few copies for your family or generations to come. You have packaged it, preserved it in a timepiece.

This is for the future.

I love this quote:

‘I shall live beyond death, and I shall sing in your ears
Even after the vast sea-wave carries me back
To the vast sea-depth.
I shall sit at your board though without a body,
And I shall go with you to your fields, a spirit invisible.
I shall come to you at your fireside, a guest unseen.
Death changes nothing but the mask that covers our faces.
The woodsman shall be still a woodsman,
The ploughman, a ploughman,
And he who sang his song to the wind shall sing it also to the moving spheres.’

– Kahlil Gibran

Happy planting!
Tara