Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Lines Are Hard

Congratulations to "Erin" and "Marijane", the winners of Allison's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated.

As a reader, I know that the opening to a book is important for me to know the tone and what to expect from the story. I’ve read too many books that start dark and scary, but then turn light and fluffy (usually because the prologue rocks, then the first chapter puts me someplace completely different.) There have been many times I’ve read the first paragraph or two and thought ho-hum – if the book hadn’t been recommended by someone I trust, I wouldn’t have bought it or read it. There have been other books that have grabbed me immediately, and didn’t live up to the expectations of that opening. And of course my favorite books, where the opening is great and the book fabulous.

So I take these weighty reader expectations into my writing. I know my opening needs to rock. I know I need to work on that first paragraph, the first sentence, and make it strong, so strong that the reader is instantly grabbed and put into the book, and they don’t want to leave.

I have two books on my desk that I’m reading (but haven’t finished!) …

One is I HUNT KILLERS, a YA thriller by Barry Lyga. (Confession – I have a YA thriller idea I’m dying to write, but have no time. So I’ve been reading them instead.)

The opening line is fabulous:

By the time Jazz got to the field outside town, yellow police tape was everywhere, strung from stake to stake in a sort of drunken, off-kilter hexagon.

Definitely draw me into the story!

The other book is GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. I rarely buy books because of hype, but this one has been recommended by multiple people I trust. Even people who didn’t ultimately like it, recommend it because Flynn is such a fantastic writer.

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.

Her opening line doesn’t quite rock it like Lyga’s, but in context with the first page it is very strong.

I’m reading the page proofs for STALKED, the fifth Lucy Kincaid book that will be for sale on October 30. In the copyedits, I change the order of Chapter One and Chapter Two – and now, I hate my opening line:

FBI Special Agent Suzanne Madeaux stuffed her thick dark blond hair under her Mets cap and left her cool air-conditioned sedan for the early dawn New York summer.

I’m going to rewrite it because it just isn’t as strong as the original opening line, that now starts Chapter Two:

The night my sister died, our mother gave us the Game of Life.

The reason I swapped chapters is because I have parallel stories going until near the end, and starting in Peter’s POV didn’t make sense. I considered making it the prologue, but I didn’t like that, either. STALKED is my first book—in 19--that doesn’t have a prologue.

Fortunately, I have a week to tweak and manipulate that opening line—the opening paragraph—so that, hopefully, it rocks.

I think one of the reasons that writers are so worried about the beginnings is because readers have so many choices. We know that our book is one of many, that if a reader isn’t drawn into the story in two, three, five pages tops, they’ll put down the book and never pick it up. If they don’t read it, they can’t recommend it to their friends, and word-of-mouth is still the single greatest advertisement an author can get – and something they can’t buy. They have to earn it, and that’s by writing good books that people enjoy and want to share with others.

Prizes! Two winners get the choice of the either a signed, printed copy of SILENCED or the digital copies of SILENCED and my self-published novella, MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY (yes, two e-books!) … Just comment below with the first line (or two) of the book you’re reading!

Keep your friends close … 

When the long-time bartender at Dooley’s Pub is murdered, the police believe a violent gang of thieves is responsible. But Shauna Murphy, Dooley’s fiery granddaughter, thinks Mack’s killer is someone she knows. In addition to stealing money, the thieves stole her grandfather’s collection of autographed baseballs, leaving behind the only forgery. The lead detective doesn’t take her seriously, and Shauna reluctantly turns to long-time family friend, Detective Sam Garcia—the man who once broke her heart. But Sam has another murder to solve: the death of a young woman who was strangled and dumped in the river. 

… and your enemies closer 

As Sam digs deeper into his own investigation, he suspects that his case is linked to Mack’s murder. After an attack on Shauna leaves her shaken and angry, Sam vows to protect her. But he can’t defend her against an unknown threat. As time runs out with no one to trust, Sam and Shauna must work together to catch a ruthless killer before they both end up dead and buried.

New York Times and USA Today bestseller Allison Brennan is the author of eighteen novels and several short stories. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, she lives in Northern California with her husband Dan and their five children.

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST Aug. 22nd. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway. 


  1. I'd love to win digital copies of SILENCED and MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY.

    Opening lines from the book I'm reading:

    "There is no mistaking the crack of a high-powered rifle. Jack Harlow, competitor in the sheepdog championship, was shot in front of an audience of twenty-five hundred people, two judges, three sheep and his border collie, Stephen. He went down like a pole-axed steer, slamming into the gate at the last holding pen, a moment frozen in time before pandemonium erupted." -- The Celibate Mouse by Diana Hockley

  2. Allison,

    Needless to say, I love your books and always check out on Goodreads books you have read or plan to read. The thought being i I like you, and you like an author, there is a good chance that I will like that author as well.

    Anyway, I have both books on my kindle but I would love a signed copy of Silenced.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win.

    Please keep writing!

    Marijane Diodati

  3. I'm one of those people who refuses to put down a book until I've finished it, even if I'm not quite enjoying it (hello Fifty Shades trilogy!), so authors have a bit more leeway with me in terms of openings. The only exception in recent times? Stephenie Meyer's Twilight (the 1st book in the series)... and I finally put that train wreck down a couple of chapters from the end because I couldn't take losing any more brain cells. There have definitely been books that have started out only mildly interesting and have gotten really good a few chapters in, so I'm glad I gave them the chance! Since my Kindle TBR queue has reached truly epic proportions--getting caught up should really be my full-time job!-- the digital form of back cover copy and recommendations from friends are the #1 criteria for prioritising my reading. And, of course, new releases from favourite authors-- those immediately jump to the top of the queue.

    [Here is where I shamefully admit that, whilst I've read & loved every single one of Allison's books, I haven't read MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY yet. So I'm definitely in favour of winning it :P]

    I'm currently partway through book #1 of ML Buchman's Night Stalkers military romantic suspense series, THE NIGHT IS MINE. It opens as follows:
    "The CNN film crew had made it fun. But now… The laptop stood balanced on a couple of empty, dull green ammo cases for the minigun. Sweaty pilots and crew stood gathered around the computer, waiting for the network to roll the clip."


  4. Hi Allison,
    Here is a good first line from the book I am reading
    "The Sculptress" by Minette Walters.

    "At Winchester Crown Court yesterday, Olive Martin, 23, of 22 Leven Road, Dawlington, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutal murders of her mother and sister, with a recommendation that she serve twenty-five years."



  5. If I should be lucky enough to win I'd like the print copy!

    "Never let them see you sweat.
    Nicole Grant, former dating guru and A-list matchmaker, knew it was a bad sign when the philosophy you were living by came from a deodorant commercial." OCEAN BEACH by Wendy Wax

  6. Serafina was having a blast.
    Not only had she strung smelly garlic bulbs all over Ferdinand Bell’s large, beautiful house on the outskirts of Edinburgh and defaced every single room with rough wooden crosses, she now got to swagger through his evening party guests like Buffy the Vampire Slayer on patrol and drink old Ferdy Bell’s vintage champagne while she was at it.

    From Serafina and the Silent Vampire by Marie Treanor

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  7. I hate my opening sentence -- actually I hate my opening chapter, but I decided not to worry about it until I get to the end. It's totally lame: Gordon Hepler swung his Mapleton Police SUV behind a long row of vehicles lining the street.

    I'm reading Heat Lighting by John Sandford. His opening sentence is:
    "The midnight shift: the shooter was going to work."

    And, I'm also reading Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer. Her opening sentence: "The dead are patient."

    Terry's Place

  8. I just finshed Heather Graham's Picture Me Dead...
    "She stared into the darkness of the room by night, suddenly and acutely aware of where she was-and the man at her side. Her mind sped up as she tried to retrace the last hours...but nothing would come to her."
    Looking at my TBR pile to see what catches my attention next!

  9. Lisa Kleypas' Rainshadow Road
    "When Lucy Marinn was seven years old, three things happened: Her little sister Alice got sick, she was assigned her first science fair project, and she found out that magic existed.


  10. "The dying don't easily become the dead."
    Trickster's Point by William Kent Krueger

    jtcgc at yahoo dot com

  11. First lines absolutely must hook me in.

    "I'm going off to war tomorrow. I might not make it back.". Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery

  12. Beginnings are all important. A great opening line, or even a page, is essential.


  13. Thanks for a fun post and congrats on the upcoming releases!

    "Near sunset of my second full day as a guest in Roseland, crossing the immense lawn between the main house and the eucalyptus grove, I halted and pivoted, warned by instinct." Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz.


  14. I'm currently reading a Young Adult book, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, and it was pretty good. The first line is,

    "After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point."


  15. Great post, Allison. As a reader, I take advantage of Amazon's sample pages. If the opening don't grab my interest and keep me flipping pages, I move on.

  16. I have just finished the Deadly Straits by RE McDermott. His opening started with:

    "Whosoever commands the Sea, commands the trade. Whosoever commands the trade of the world, commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself." --- Sir Walter Raleigh, October 1618

    Offices of Phoenix Shipping Ltd.
    London, UK
    Local Time: 1900 Hours 10 May
    GMT: 1800 Hours 10 May

    Alex Kairouz turned from the screen and swiveled in his chair to bend over his wastebasket, barely in time.

    I love the format of the story. Never seen the story starts off like this.


  17. We have an email entry....

    Dear Allison,I really enjoyed reading the books that you have written. Here in Australia, we seem to be a little slow in getting your latest books on the shelves. I have just been given a kindle by my family, so now my problems are solved. At the moment I am reading BORN TO THE DARKNESS by SUZANNE BROCKMANN. This is another great book written by her, and the opening sentences are- THE MAN HAD TAKEN HIS OWN FAMILY HOSTAGE. MAC MACKENZIE COULD FEEL THE FEAR AND HEAR THE JOKERS WIFE AND THREE CHILDREN CRYING AS SHE QUICKLY SCALED THE SIDE OF THE HOUSE, ALL THE WAY UP TO THE ROOF. Thank you for writing such great books, Ann


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