The phone call wasn't what I'd hoped for. My agent didn't like the direction I'd taken my rewrite. We talked for an hour, analyzing what worked and what didn't. After the conversation, I thought about my options:
Abandon this manuscript
Eat three pounds of chocolate in one sitting
Abandon the new series
Find a new agent
Drink some of that new scotch I'd bought for special occasions
Beat the crap out of the punching bag in my back yard
Throw myself into yet another rewrite
Rework the beginning to make the entire book more solid
Since I'm writing this particular blog with bloodied and sticky fingers, you can probably guess which choices I made.
In my Sasha Solomon series, I've prided myself on big first lines — the kind that make an impression — that get the laugh. While these fit Sasha's personality, I think I made deeper assumptions about first lines that were naive.
I was thinking too small.
A first line does not a book make.
Perhaps that's obvious to you; it took me five years to figure out.
Many of us were raised with the adage that "first impressions last a lifetime." I still think this is true. But there's squiggle room in a first impression; it doesn't happen all at once. In writing, there is the first line and then some . . .
The first sentence begins the set up and influences how the reader will settle into the book. It brings with it the power to affect every perception that reader has about the ensuing story.
But it doesn't need to scream.
Ever since my conversation with my agent, I've been studying the first few paragraphs of books I like. What I've decided is that these initial introductions are promises. They set the stage and they'd better set it right.
Sasha is a smart aleck. So the first line of The Socorro Blast is spot on for her: "If Hell exists, it's filled with old boyfriends . . . and a cat."
With Darnda Jones, I've had to pull back. My new protagonist is a strong and witty character too, but she's far more secure in her life and world view. She knows herself better; she's mature. She also has a really weird job.
My first first line for Darnda was: "My name is Darnda Jones and I look like Cher should."
It's a great intro, but Darnda doesn't really care what she looks like. Vanity isn't a priority for her. So the lede is misleading. It's also bawdier than my character is. The promise here has a Janet Evanovich-y tone that I don't think I could or would want to sustain.
One of my next attempts was: "The palmetto bug limped, slowly making all the wrong decisions, as if suicide was on its tiny mind."
Another good beginning. It was also closer because of Darnda's work. However, it required too much up front explanation and slowed down the action. And I wasn't sure how many readers would sympathize with a giant cockroach.
For now I've settled on this version: "When you work as a psychic, you bump up against a lot of attitude. I didn't mind. With millions of lives at stake, snide comments were the least of my concerns."
This intro doesn't have the "sexy" punch of my others — it'd never work in a Sasha book — but it absolutely sets the scene and gives insights into the character right away. Darnda is on a mission. It's an important point and gets to the heart of what motivates her in her work.
I don't know if I'll stick with this newest beginning. Right now it's helping me ground the first few chapters. I have a feeling that if I put more of a foundation in those, the rest of the manuscript will make more sense.
At least that's what I'm hoping . . .
–What do you think about the role of first lines in a book/story?
–Do you have favorite firsts? Can you explain why they work alone or within context?
–Authors: Do you struggle with first lines. Do they come easily?
–Readers: Do you pay attention to those intros or are you committed to read more than that when you start a new book?