The First Impression

Now, I’m not talking about general first impressions, of course – but of book first impressions! 🙂 Annnd….I know this post was supposed to be up days ago, but apparently WordPress had other ideas, and didn’t post it for me. So here it is, anyway! 

We all know the important parts of putting a book together. Cover, editor, marketing…but what happens after the reader first clicks onto your Amazon page? They might take a look at the cover, and decide that they love it enough to look further. A cover may not bother them, and they’ll go straight to the blurb. (I made a big post on writing a blurb here.) After they’ve read it, been hooked enough to read a bit more, what next?

They’re going to take a ‘Look Inside’. And that’s where the book either lives up to its promise, or falls a little short.

Because the most important part of your entire manuscript – really! – is the very first line. Anyone who has ever had to write an essay knows that it must begin with a sentence that sums up everything the essay is about, your opinion, or your viewpoint. A manuscript is no different in that it must sum up the feeling of your entire novel, and hook someone is just a few words. First, let’s take a look at some great first lines, then we’ll see what sets them apart. (Just to note, first lines in any book are subjective, but I’ve tried to pick lines from classic books that I think most people will know pretty well, and most will agree on. 🙂 )

 

At least we passed the Snape test.

At least we passed the Snape test.

The Good Stuff

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  George Orwell, 1984

“I am an invisible man.” Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

“All children, except one, grow up.” J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

“I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped.” Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?'” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

It's a blog, don't worry. We're all crazy around here. But we'll work out these damn opening lines together!

It’s a blog, don’t worry. We’re all crazy around here. But we’ll work out these damn opening lines together!

What’s The Idea?

What makes all these opening lines both so memorable and brilliant? What is it that they all have in common? Well the first important thing to note is that all of them, in one way or another, sum up everything the novel is about. Without having to delve further, the reader already has the seed of an idea of what the book is about. J.M. Barrie’s line immediately encapsulates Peter Pan. Melville’s line open up a complex web of ideas about the narrator, who really, is the character that the book revolves around as he tells it from his own viewpoint. Austen’s famous line also immediately gets to the heart of what the book about, and even without reading further, we almost certainly know there will be a romantic couple somewhere in the novel who do not instantly fall in love. 

So the first thing to consider is ‘does this first line get across the feel of my novel?’ I’m not saying that you have to give away everything in one sentence, but you have to set the tone. Take Orwell’s line, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” For those who have never read it, it’s a science-fiction novel, and it also falls neatly into a ‘modern’ genre; dystopian. This line sets the scene first with its description of the day -cold and bright. ‘Bright’ on its own could bring back memories of sunny days, but not when coupled with ‘cold’. It brings to mind cold, bright places, such as the clinical areas of hospitals, or snowy days outside. It gives a clean, clinical feel to the first line, something quite emotionless and separate from anything comforting. Then there’s the second part of that line – the clocks were striking thirteen. This captures out attention straight away, because we know, in our world, clocks do no such thing. So this tells the reader that this is a strange, unforgiving place with different rules and ideas from our own. We already have the emotionless feel from the first part, so this can only tell us that clocks striking thirteen are not a good thing. This is a carefully crafted sentence, and each part of it, although short, gives the feel of the whole novel to the reader.

 

I must know more!

I must know more!

But What Else?

It can’t be as easy as setting the scene; there must be something more. And there is. It speaks directly to the reader. The quickest way to get a reader to connect with your book is to give them something they can relate to. On the surface, some of them don’t seem like they go too far into this, but unconsciously, you can connect with something in the line. Look at Lewis Carroll’s opening line – didn’t we all feel like that when we were small children? And with Ellison’s line, despite the fact none of us have ever actually been invisible (at least, I hope not!), we can feel the depression and loneliness behind the statement. Maybe it’s because at some point or another, we’ve all felt ‘invisible’ in some way, perhaps for some of us its because we’re the kind of people who empathise easily with people in a difficult situation. 

Leo Tolstoy’s first line actually does this twice. First by suggesting the truth we all know behind any family – that no matter how much you love each other, there will be arguments and fall-outs, and no doubt there’s one or two people in the family who don’t speak to each other at all! But this leads to the other truth he holds up, that we like to have a social veneer over ourselves and our loved ones, to prevent the rest of society from seeing what would be considered to be flaws or immoral ideas. This also encompasses what the novel itself is about, and weirdly, strikes as true today as when it was first written.

 

Go, create beautiful opening lines together. Or apart. Or in a room of people. You can literally write opening lines anywhere. LOL

Go, create beautiful opening lines together. Or apart. Or in a room of people. You can literally write opening lines anywhere. LOL

So To Sum Up…

An opening line needs to be the most powerful sentence you write in the whole novel. It has to connect with the reader, either by evoking an emotion, or by linking it to a universal truth we’ve all felt at one time or another. It also has to immediately sum up the entire book in just a few words. This is the ultimate synopsis, is that it sums up everything that can be expected from the book in one go.

The best way to go about it really, is to write your whole book, edit it, then come back to that first line again. Tweak it and play with it until it covers everything mentioned above – and any reader who loves your first line, is already eager for the rest of your book. 🙂

 

What lines do you guys like the best from novels? What’s your favourite opening line ever? 🙂

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Manic Monday Once Again!

Merry morning, everyone! 🙂 Well, I was away over the weekend, and WP didn’t bother to put up my scheduled posts. Will I ever get the hang of this internet thing? LOL So, anyhoo, the Manic part of Monday is…that Scrumptious Saturday and Sunday Snippet are both part of today’s post! Scrumptious Saturdays will be from some of my favourite book-related recipes, and Sunday Snippet is…well…a snippet. And it’s from Daughters Of Brigantia again, as this WIP seems to be taking over for now. Well, let’s move on! Or should that be backward? Anyway, enjoy! 😀

 

Scrumptious Saturday

Two of the books I loved most as a child were Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass. (Not to mention pretty much every other book and poem by Lewis Carroll, but that’s for another day.) A recipe mentioned within, that was a firm favourite with the Victorians, was Mock Turtle Soup. Now, I’m not about to get a turtle, OR a chicken for today’s dish, so vegetarians don’t worry! This is 100% veggie-friendly. 🙂 (However, there ARE eggs in the recipe. Please use a vegan egg substitute for a vegan-friendly version.)

Mock ‘Mock Turtle Soup’

Ingredients

  • 1 lb potatoes, or other starchy vegetables
  • 3 qts water
  • carrots (chopped)
  • 3 stalks chopped celery
  • onions (chopped)
  • 12 ozs catsup
  • 21/2 ozs worcestershire sauce
  • lemon (quartered)
  • 11/2 tsps salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • flour (browned)
  • hard-boiled eggs (chopped) (Or use Vegan Egg Substitute)

 

  1. Boil the potatoes to a firm but soft-at-the-edges consistency; add all ingredients to the potatoes in a large pot; cook 1 to 1.5 hours.
  2. Keep lid on for first 1/2 hour.
  3. Add browned flour gradually, stirring constantly.
  4. Add 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs; cook another 1/2 hour.
  5. Browned flour: Brown 10 tablespoons flour in a skillet, stirring constantly. Add a little water to make a thick paste.

 

Enjoy your literary soup! 😀

Sunday Snippet – Daughters Of Brigitania

 

*Please bear in mind there may be some errors, as this is still a WIP. Enjoy! 🙂

 

Darting into her roundhouse, Aiia was glad to see it had been left as how she remembered it. Snatching up a fresh change of clothes, she pulled them on and reached for a jug of water, splashing it into a bowl. As she attempted to clean up her face and hair, a jolt of panic ran through her again. Of all the people who had been in that crowd, only Aiia understood the curious look Cartimandua had given the messenger. She’s going to say yes to their truce. Yes! To the same bastards who killed Gaisio, and would have killed any of us when they landed. After scooping up a hammered bronze mirror to check her reflection, she ran back outside, to make her way into the great hut. Cartimandua would not be happy to see her, but she had little choice—she had to be there.

Two guards were stood to attention at the main doors, but neither of them even blinked when she sped past, keeping her eyes downcast to prevent them recognising her. As she slipped into the darkness of the roundhouse, she ducked in behind the servant girls, perching herself in a dark corner to listen to what was said. Cartimandua and Venutius were seated in their thrones, the messenger sat on a bench the other side of the fire. It crackled and jumped, an unwelcome addition to the hot day, but necessary for the feast to be laid out in the evening.

After making sure that the messenger was given wine and food, Cartimandua settled back into her throne, and fixed him with a wry smirk. “I suppose you have been told we are barbarians and savages, yes?”

The messenger looked up from his drink with a stutter, feigning surprise. “Indeed not, your majesty. We have no knowledge of yourselves, with the exception of our late emperor Julius Caesar’s writings. He merely mentioned how your land was triangular was was at least two-thousand miles across.”

Venutius gave a frown, interrupting, “Excuse me…miles? What are these?”

Coughing on his bread, the messenger hid a smile, replying, “It is a unit of measure, your majesty. For example, it is about a mile from your gates to the very bottom of the valley below.”

“Ah, I see.” Venutius leaned back into his chair, stroking his moustache thoughtfully. Waving an arm he continued, “So I suppose you mi—“

“We did not come here to talk about measurements,” Cartimandua reminded him tartly, turning her attention back to the messenger and adding, “And my husband is not ‘your majesty’, he is merely Prince Regent. You may refer to him as ‘my Prince’. Now, what of these gifts? Are they to bribe us, then?”

The messenger scoffed at the statement, choosing to ignore Cartimandua’s jibe about her husband. Venutius himself bristled at the statement but said nothing, simply sending a dark glare into the back of the queen’s head. The messenger leaned up with a smug lilt to his dark eyes, and crooked a finger at one of the soldiers. They jumped up smartly and strode to the chest, bending down only to click the lock open.

Even Aiia let out an awestruck breath at the sight. Bright terracotta pots lay within, filled to bursting with glass beads in every hue, amphorae of wine and oils. Cartimandua tried to appear unruffled, but she slid forward on her seat to better view the luxuries within the chest. It appeared all the more like a treasure trove for the current situation the tribe was living through. She held her hand out as the soldier passed over a string of amber-coloured beads, running them through her fingers like a gift from the gods. “And all of these…are if we choose to join your empire, I presume?” she responded, ruefully placing the jewellery back down again and staring quizzically at the messenger.

He shook his head. “No, these are yours to enjoy. Rome does not offer up toys as if you were spoilt children. We merely wish to show you what Rome could give you. If you were to sign the treaty…there would be many more gifts.” He gave a charming grin, his stern countenance momentarily shattered. “Rome does not forget its friends. But, I should warn you. Neither does Rome forget its enemies.”

His words were not taken lightly, and the Queen rose her gaze to his, the fires casting dark shadows across her eyes. “Is that a warning?” she answered quietly, her tone ominous.

The messenger’s chewing slowed once more, and he gave a slow swallow, leaning forward on his worn seat. The fire reflected off his brass armour, giving him the impression of being made of fire. “Only if you choose to be an enemy.”

 

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(Taken from ‘Daughters Of Brigantia’, Copyright © 2013 Kathryn Northwood. Do not reproduce, use, copy, or include in any way in any format, digital or print, without prior permission of the author.)