Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Anatomy of a book – First Words

It’s been said the opening lines of a book are the most important words the author will write. Some writers can’t start working until they have them clear in their mind; others deliberately leave them until after the book is finished. No matter when they’re written, they must engage the imagination of the reader and promise a story worth the time it will take to read it.

The value of any first line can be judged by the action and intrigue it captures and the number of questions it raises in the mind of the reader. A couple of books have been written citing great examples. GETTING HOOKED: FICTION’S OPENING SENTENCES, 1950-1990, by Sharon Rendell-Smock, is a compilation of great first lines presented from a reader’s point of view. The second, HOOKING THE READER: OPENING LINES THAT SELL,( ) by the same author, approaches the subject from the writer’s viewpoint. The latter includes favorite first lines selected by more than a hundred authors from their own work.  If you are new to writing, it couldn’t hurt to study some of the great beginnings in these volumes.

First lines sometimes come easy for me, arriving as complete sentences at some point during the preparation for a new book. But then there are  times when they don't, when I sit with  eyes closed, fingers on the keyboard while I wait for inspiration -- and nothing happens. What I do then is just put something down as a place holder until I have the perfect beginning. But how do I know when the words are right? I can be fairly sure of it when they bring on a smile and an urgent need to get on with the rest of the story.
Close Call Ahead!
What is the opening line of my work in progress then, Book 3 of my Italian Billionaire’s series, THE AMALFITANO’S BOLD ABDUCTION?  Well, the sentence introduces a traffic jam on the narrow Amafi Coast road -- but this is one of those times when I’m not so sure about the exact wording. For now, I’m going with: “She knew it was bound to happen.”

So far I’ve talked about where story ideas come from, dramatic story situations, naming characters, character charts, title choices, brainstorming, chapter charts and writing in scenes. Scroll down for more of this blog series on how I put a book together.


Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

No comments: