Friday, October 14, 2011

First Lines: Character Reveal or Plot Reveal, that is the question?

by Brooke Favero
This week I've been revising the beginning of my story. Where to start is such a hard thing to decide. It needs to be close to the inciting incident but not so close that the reader gets lost.

And then there is the very very beginning: first sentence, first paragraph, and first page. All three are critical to hook your reader deeper into the plot and the characters. They must make your reader care enough to turn the first page.

Personally, I don't hinge whether I stop reading based on the first page. (I usually give a book about twenty pages. If it doesn't hold my interest by twenty, I'm done.) But I do notice when a first line, paragraph or page is done well. If you need help like me, The Other Side of the Story has some great techniques for crafting the first page.

So I've been reworking my first line a lot this week, and I've also been studying the first lines of many different books. Great first lines generally fit into two categories: character reveal or plot reveal. (Although I think the very best lines do both.)

I took a look at my original first line and it was a character reveal. Not bad but my inciting incident isn't till page 18. I decided I needed a first line with a plot reveal to hook my readers to get them through those 18 pages of character development---sort of a promise of what's to come.

Here's my new first line of my middle grade story (for now): When you fall through a puddle, no one hears you scream, and yet I scream every time.

I still don't love it. Arrrggh. Any thoughts?

What is the first line of your WIP? Is it a character or plot reveal or both?

What are your best tips for writing a first line?


Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm intrigued at the thought of falling through a puddle, so I'm guessing that's a good hook for MG readers.

My own first sentence? "When Carl arrived home from his shift at two o’clock in the morning, Lynnette heard him slam into the kitchen and let loose with a string of obscenities." I'm hoping it's a bit of both...

John Paul McKinney said...

Yes. This is really helpful. Brooke, I want to know why you keep falling through puddles. And, Pat, why the heck does Carl come home screaming? You both have me interested, no, intrigued. Mine is: "As Charlie Brannigan swung into the parking lot at Waumeka High School, into the space marked "Principal," he noticed the same gold Thunderbird super coupe pulling away from the front of the building that he had seen every morning for the past three days." Maybe too long but I think it contains some of both. Does it?

Halli Gomez said...

At the fall SCBWI conference, they suggested that the first line should have the character and plot reveal, setting and voice. I thought this was impossible, but I have read some that manage to incorporate all of them.

I do love your first line. It definitely grabs you.
Mine, not so much, but here it is: "Tanner, don't look, Luke's coming."

Kay Theodoratus said...

Interesting ideas. I'm stumbling over the same opening paragraph myself. I think I've been trying to do both ... without Germanic sentences.

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