Please welcome guest blogger Susan Meier
Writer’s drive themselves crazy trying to find the absolute perfect first lines for their books. Pundits say short, powerful lines are the best.
He was going to die.
Mother knows best.
I don’t think anyone could read “He was going to die” without wondering who he is or why he was going to die. A woman’s world doesn’t change much more than when she’s pregnant. So most of us would realize there was change coming if we read “I’m pregnant”. And mother knows best? Some people would read that and shudder.
Other pundits say that lines filled with ambiance that draw readers into your special world work best.
Flowers lined the newly washed sidewalk that led to the front door of the neat-as-a-pin Cape Code house. (Neat freak in a small town!)
Or how about: Wind whipped the sail into a frenzy. You certainly get a sense of place from both of those.
But I’m not a first line freak. I think the biggest, most important job of a first line is to get you to read the second line!
For the first book in my maid’s duet MAID FOR THE MILLIONAIRE I chose a very straightforward, simple opening to the book.
My hero, Cain Nestor, has been without a housekeeper for weeks. He also travels a lot. Put those two things together and you have a rich guy who runs out of basic-necessity clothing without realizing. Obviously out of his element, he turns his underwear pink by washing them with a red shirt.
But there’s a bright spot. He hears his kitchen door open and when he eagerly rushes out to see who’s coming in (only someone with a code can enter) it’s a maid from the local housekeeping service: Happy Maids. But his relief that underwear help has arrived is short-lived. When the maid turns to face him he sees it’s his ex-wife.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Odd first line, followed by a sense of relief, followed by real trouble. Ex-wife in the house.
Surprise turns to chagrin when he remembers he’s only wearing a towel. But chagrin quickly becomes regret when he realizes the woman he’d once loved so desperately is now a maid. He’s absolutely positive he’s ruined her life.
Just a tad self-important! LOL
My silly first line, which is really only two words, Pink underwear, quickly leads readers on an emotional journey. Disgust that his laundry is pink leads to relief over seeing a housekeeping service has arrived, that leads to shock when the housekeeper is identified as his ex-wife, which instantly takes him down a road of regret.
One line quickly leads to the next until the reader is so far into the book, she’s not only immersed in the story, I’m hoping she’s forgotten she’s reading and that these people aren’t real.
Sometimes I think we get so concerned with finding the “perfect” first line for our books that we forget that that line’s primary function really is just to lead us to the second line. The second line should lead us to the third, the third to the fourth, etc. etc.
In book two of this summer’s maid duet, MAID FOR THE SINGLE DAD, the line is equally simple:
Ellie Swanson had not signed up for this.
Readers immediately know Ellie’s not having a good day.
And as with MAID FOR THE MILLIONAIRE, they are led down a quick journey that doesn’t just explain the trouble, it shows Ellie’s emotion and a good bit of her personality.
She’s generously running her friend’s maid service company while her friend Liz (heroine from book 1) is on her honeymoon and who shows up on the very first day? A friend of Liz’s new husband. And not just any friend, a friend who wants her to send a nanny to his house.
Well, of course, a maid service isn’t a nanny service, but Cain’s friend, Mac, plays dumb. He needs someone he can trust. He wants someone to keep his secrets.
Ellie is in trouble. Should she turn away a man who isn’t just a friend of her boss’s husband, he’s also the very wealthy man Cain has been wooing for years, trying to get some of his business? With a few well placed hints, Mac lets Ellie know that if she does him this favor, he’ll reciprocate by giving Cain the work his company wants.
The first lines in both of these books stir up the readers’ imaginations but they also lead them down a well-constructed path.
Take a look at your first line. Salt and sea air, blooming flowers, newly washed sidewalks, and even I’m pregnant are all wonderful. Just remember things should be leading readers down the path they need to follow to fall into your story.
So how are your first lines? Post ‘em! There’s nothing more fun than reading first lines.
Susan Meier is the author of 40 books for Harlequin and Silhouette and one of Guideposts' Grace Chapel Inn series books, The Kindness of Strangers. Her books have been finalists for Reviewers Choice Awards, National Reader's Choice Awards and Cataromance.com Reviewer's Choice Awards and nominated for Romantic Times awards. They have been published in over twenty countries, touching the hearts of readers of many cultures and ethnicities.
Susan loves to teach as much as she loves to write. Can This Manuscript Be Saved? and Journey Steps, Taking the Train to Somewhere! are her most requested workshops. Her article “How to Write a Category Romance” appeared in 2003 Writer’s Digest Novel and Short Story Markets. Susan also gives online workshops for various groups and her articles regularly appear in RWA chapter newsletters.
Her most recent release was MAID IN MONTANA, Harlequin Romance (6/09) Her next release is THE MAGIC OF A FAMILY CHRISTMAS, Harlequin Romance coming November 2009.
Story, Theme and Vehicle, presented by Susan Meier, runs from October 4, 2010 - October 31, 2010