Susan Reinhardt, a professional writer and novelist over at Christian Writer/Reader Connection, brought up a great point on one of the comments this week.
"One thing I noticed about some of your first line examples: adverbs and unusual dialogue tags. These are things I've been taught to avoid. If you have an opportunity, can you address this?
It's true! They tell us, don't use those adverbs/adjectives as that will get you rejected. What? So how do some of these published authors get away with THAT? Most of the examples we saw are from established authors. (Not debut authors.) There is always an exception to every rule.
Noah Lukeman has a whole chapter about adjectives/adverbs in his book, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.He talks about overuse and how you do not want to pepper your manuscript with them. He says just cut them. But he also says to replace common ones with unusual ones. Get ones that draw attention. Strengthen your nouns and verbs. Or substitute a comparison, analogy or metaphor.
Mary Connealy is one of my favorite authors and here are some openings of her books:
Montana Rose: "Cassie wanted to scream, Put down that shovel!"
Petticoat Ranch: "Sophie heard God in every explosion of thunder as she listened to the awesome power of the approaching storm."
Petticoat Ranch was one of her early books. Montana Rose is one of her recent releases. Can you see a difference in the openings?
This is from Gingham Mountain: "Martha had an iron rod where most people had a backbone."
She sure can tell a story and she pulls me in every time, even though I think Montana Rose is one of her finest (in my opinon,) I still love the early books, too.
Not many people voted on my poll over to the right, so let's look at the openings to those books.Can you choose a book to read from these openings?
By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (Blood of Kings Book 1):
"Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic."
Missing Max by Karen Young:
" They say people have a premonition about calamity before it strikes. But Jane Madison felt only irritation when her cell phone rang as she waited in the Mardi Gras crowd to order shrimp po' boys."
She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell:
"'Get dressed, Clara. In your visiting costume. We are going out.' My aunt's words were at once both commanding and precise--as precise as her posture: a series of ninety-degree angles, seated upon one of my bedroom chairs."
Almost Forever by Deborah Raney:
"Bryn drew the queen of diamonds from the stack of playing cards on the wobbly table between her and Charlie Branson. The grizzled Vietnam vet eyed her from his wheelchair as she discarded an ace."
A Woman Called Sage by DiAnn Mills:
"Life didn't get any better than having the love of a good man and his baby kicking against her ribs. Add a summer breeze to cool the heart of a southern Colorado sun and a bed of soft green grass tickling her feet, and Sage felt a slice of heaven had come to earth."
Lukeman points out these things that could draw a rejection:
1. A weak opening hook.
2. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs.
3. Flat or forced metaphors or similes.
4. Melodramatic, commonplace or confusing dialogue.
5. Uneven pacing and lack of progression.
So, Susan's question does deserve our attention. While openings are only one portion of the entire manuscript, you usually only get one shot at the first few pages to attract attention. Here's the another thing we didn't talk about--sometimes the opening which caught the agent/editor's eye to start will get changed before it's published. (Yeah, it happens.)
All this isn't written in stone, but seeing many openings of published books shows you how it has been done by those who are published. When you pick up a book in the bookstore, Steve Laube, a bookstore manager-turned-editor-turned agent, says you only have a scant few seconds to capture that reader before he puts down your book and picks up the next one. There is something to writing that opening paragraph. Once you've written your book, go back and look over your opening with fresh eyes before sending it out. Get Lukeman's book and work on his exercises. Run your opening past a few people who know nothing about your book to test it.
Are you trying to pick your next book to read? Throw out a few sentences to let us pick! Or if you want to entice us to read your favorite new release, throw us the opening sentence.
Tomorrow I'll draw a name from the commentators this week and buy that person a copy of The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. And of course, I'll be wanting to know your opening line of your current WIP once you practice using it.
Thanks so much to everyone who commented this week. I really enjoyed reading those openings.