Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HOOK: The First Line

There's no denying the lure of a great first line. Most people pick up a book based on the cover and/or title. After that they read the jacket info and the first line or two to see if the book draws them in. A judge, agent, or editor is likewise drawn to your story--or not!--by the first line.

So it's crucial to have a beginning with a hook.

How do we as writers obtain a hook? Since I'm a fan of lists (they're so tidy and handy), here are ways to be "hooky" with a first line or opening. Try one or all, as suits you.

1. Give a few tidbits to pique interest and mystery--but don't answer all questions.
2. Start with a mood or tone that accurately reflects the genre and style of your story.
3. Starting with dialogue is difficult to do well, as readers are thrown into the conversation without knowing who the characters are. First tell us why we should care.
4. Starting in mid-action can also be disconcerting, before readers know the characters.
5. The starting scene is the day everything changes for your main character. Back up a bit from the "inciting incident" or pivotal moment to ground the reader first.
6. Avoid cliché openings: characters waking up, having a dream, being chased, etc.
7. Don't sweat it! Often you must write the entire novel to write the first line properly.
8. Try not to start off with long lyrical (purple) prose or descriptions. You'll lose readers.
9. Keep the first line relatively short. Read it aloud; you shouldn't run out of breath.
10. The rest of the story should flow naturally and logically from the first line.
11. A first line may intro the main character, but it's not necessary to say the entire first and last name; it often creates a closer/intimate feeling by using only a first name.
12. Don't be gimmicky and throw out a false hook or promise. Readers won't be pleased.
13. Try not to start your first line intriguingly, then fall into dull backstory or musings.
14. Run your opening by your critique partners and see if they are hooked--or confused.
15. Beware of using passive voice or verbs (is/was) unless you're doing it consciously.
16. Only begin your story from a future vantage point looking back if you want the reader to know the main character has survived his/her ordeal.
19. Some agents--like mine--hate stories that start with character stats: "Hi, I'm Brian, and I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes."
20. The best first lines are iconic and give an encapsulation of the thrust of the novel.

I always felt the first line of my novel SHAPERS was a bit yawners and didn't encapsulate a sci-fi feel. This is what I had-- which is now the 2nd sentence:
I pull the weight bar down to my chest, sending a fuzzy burn through my biceps.

So Agent Kelly and I came up with this (mostly her idea). It seems more iconic/hooky:
Five more reps, and I should be done with this body for good.

FIRST LINES of books I've recently read.
CHIME by Franny Billingsley: I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.
ROTTERS by Daniel Kraus: This is the day my mother dies.
DARK EDEN by Patrick Carman: Why are you hiding in this room all alone?
OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn: A zero like me shouldn't take public transportation.
THE DOCTOR'S LADY by Jody Hedlund: "Indians!" (dialogue that works fine)

What is your favorite first line from a published novel?
Have you ever started a novel with your character waking up?
What is the first line from YOUR novel or piece of writing?
Do you have any other suggestions about creating hooky first lines?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

To everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving, may you have a very lovely and happy one. And for those of you who don't--well, have a very lovely and happy day anyhow! :)

My daughters are visiting from the Portland, OR, area and my younger daughter (22) wants to drag me off to see "Breaking Dawn." She may be more excited about it than I am, but it's a fun thing to do together. My older daughter was born the evening of November 26, and I spent 1986 in the hospital for Thanksgiving. Totally NOT recommended dining!

One year, years ago, our family ditched the idea of a turkey, and had homemade pizzas for Thanksgiving. Yes, we're rebels. Although I do love the traditional meal, especially homemade stuffing and pumpkin pie. YUM!

What's your favorite Thanksgiving food?
Have you ever eaten something besides the traditional meal on Thanksgiving?
Have you seen "Breaking Dawn" yet--and if not, do you plan to?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

17 Writer Things I've Learned

The Internet and social networking are wonderful things. So are conferences. I've accumulated a lot of writerly information over the years. Here are some things I've learned:

1. Double-space a manuscript with at least 1" margins.
2. Round off word count to the nearest thousand. Don't put 79,462 on your ms/query!
3. Use at least 12 point for your font. Be kind to weary agent and editor eyes.
4. To indicate mid-chapter scene changes, make hash tags # or asterisks * (centered). They are especially important to indicate scenes that end at the bottom of a page.
1. Don't put extra line spaces between your paragraphs. Don't. Do. It.
2. Don't number your first page. Your name, address, email, word count, & title go there.
3. Some editors detest the Courier font! It adds pages, for one thing. Times New Roman is the closest to a finished product page count, but always check submission guidelines.
4. Never underline. Use italics for direct thoughts, emphasis, names of ships/books/etc.
5. Never put two spaces after a period.

1. If you truly want to social network with others, make sure you have an email linked to your profile. TO CHECK: In Blogger, go to Dashboard, then Edit Profile. Add your email under Identity (this can be one you set up just for blogging). Then bloggers who reply to comments via email--like me--can respond to you. Yay!
2. You may have fewer readers, followers, or comments if you do the following: write long posts, have word verification, or have comment moderation. People are busy; these things slow them down.

1. POV: A lot of successful YA manuscripts are in 1st person; it's really popular with teens. (And here I had only written in 3rd limited, before…)
2. Editing: The more polished your manuscript is as far as grammar, punctuation, and spelling, the greater your chance of acceptance. It's like brushing your hair before an interview. Editors these days have less time and budget to polish, so a near-ready novel is a very attractive thing. Agents love it too.
3. On Sub: Once you have an agent and go "on submission" to find an editor, do NOT post about it on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook. Editors don't want to Google you to find out you've been peddling your book for a year and they're last on your agent's list. Ouch. (Nope, I'm not on sub; I'm still revising and polishing.)
4. Advances: It's not always best to get a whopper advance from a publisher. For one thing, taxes take a bigger bite. For another, it's harder to sell well enough to "earn out" that big advance, and you may be met with less enthusiasm for your next book.
5. More on Advances: A writer doesn't get an advance all in one chunk. It's split up into 2 or 3 checks, for instance one at signing and one when the book comes out.
6. Contracts: If you signed a book contract with a traditional publisher today, your book would come out in TWO years; it'd be on a fall 2013 list. Small publishers and presses often work faster, though.

And speaking of not having too long of blog posts, I will quit here!

Did you learn anything, or did you already know all these things?
Do you disagree with any of these points--or have you heard info that conflicts?
Do you have other helpful tidbits to share? What have YOU learned??

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

OPEN MINDS: Read it!

Funny but perfect timing. Here last week I was just talking about reading books with my inner-editor hat on, and how only certain books can sweep me up so completely that I forget I'm wearing that hat.

Well! This weekend I read one of those books. OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn.

OPEN MINDS is a YA science fiction novel. Here's the summary:

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can't read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can't be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf's mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she's dragged deep into a hidden underworld of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

I usually grade pretty hard when I write reviews. I would probably give this a 4.6 or 4.7 out of 5. It's not heavy sci-fi, by the way--not full of overbearing sciency stuff.

The science fiction elements and futuristic world-building were done very well, which made the story more real. I enjoyed the writing style of the author and how she phrased things, for instance the description of how laughter would sound in someone's mind (as other people are mentally laughing or being amused). The invented slang such as "mesh" (cool) and "pravers" (degenerate/evil people) were really fun and apt. I'd enthuse more over details, but I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone!

The things that I felt could be improved about this book were minor. Near the end there's a detail that seems a little too coincidental to me, and the word "snuck" is used 3 times, which sets off my overly sensitive grammar-radar. ("Sneaked" is the proper past tense of sneak, not snuck. If you have a "snuck" in your ms, go take it out! Unless it's in dialogue, of course.)

There were 7-8 instances of spaces omitted, typos that may be fixed in later editions since I notified Susan of them. Also, in a couple of places things were repeated by the main character that had already been explained. I didn't mind that too much, because some of the ideas were complex and more time was needed to wrap my head around them.

This is the very first ebook I've ever bought. I read the first pages on Susan's site and had to get it. The ebook on Amazon is only $2.99. What a deal!!

Read the first chapter sample HERE.
Rip on over to Amazon and buy it HERE.

Have you read this book yet? (if so, you're fast, since it just came out!)
Do you like to read YA science fiction, or is it not quite your genre?
What books have you read that have been so good that you've ignored your editor hat?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reading With Your Editor Hat On

Hi lovely cyberbuddies! Short post today--I'm doing Revisions Round 3: line edits.

While it's all fine and good to read over your own manuscript with a critical eagle-eye, what do you do when it comes down to reading published books?

When I find time to do "pleasure reading," I admit I have trouble taking off my writer or editor's hat. Unless sections of a book really captivate me so that I forget I'm reading, I read books through the lens of plot, character, pacing, strength of descriptions, etc.

I analyze. Constantly.

I read like a WRITER reading a book, rather than like a READER reading a book.

My hubby asks me if I can relax and just enjoy a book without analyzing it. I'm not so sure I can anymore. Reading is pleasurable, yes, but it's also my research. I read YA books in various genres to find out what has been published, what's out there. I want to see how these books work--what makes them zip or sag, how the plot is structured, and how the characters run around on the pages.

What about you--are you able to set aside your editor's hat when you read?
Do you consider reading as pleasure or as research? Something in between?
When you find minor things that bug you in a book, are you less enthusiastic about it?