Let's Talk with Debra H. Goldstein
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” (Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier)
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents, grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” (Little Women – Louisa May Alcott)
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling)
First lines, as illustrated above, can make or break a book. They set the tone and entice the reader to come on a journey of imagination. If they don’t do their job, the reader will likely put the book down.
Each of the above quoted first lines provide the reader with information that allows imagination to flesh out the characters or raises a question about the circumstances being alluded to. Specifically, in Rebecca, we wonder why it is a dream and what happened the first time the speaker went to Manderley.
We also immediately know the story will be told looking back to the past. Little Women’s first line makes us ask why there won’t be presents, who Jo is, and sets the time of year that the story begins. The final first line, from Harry Potter, alerts the reader that normalcy is at issue. As the Dursleys defend being normal, the reader instinctively inquires who or what isn’t normal and why it is important.
Although I don’t lay claim to the power of these famous lines, my first line in SHOULD HAVE PLAYED POKER is designed to make the reader chuckle, thus cementing a specific thought/action in the reader’s mind.
“The first time I thought of killing him, the two of us were having chicken sandwiches at that fast-food place with the oversized rubber bird anchored to its roof.”
From that line, I go on, as the other authors do, to use the next few paragraphs to develop the key characters and the plot line:
“I know the one.” I hand a cup of coffee across my desk to a woman I have not seen in twenty-six years.
With her free hand, Charlotte Martin pushes back a gray strand escaping from her ponytail. “It didn’t seem like the right thing to kill him in a place they close on Sundays. Besides, Carrie, being a lawyer, you can understand I didn’t want to do prison time. I decided it would be better to divorce your father.”
These few paragraphs tell you about the two characters in the present, how they have interacted over the years, and provide a motivation for actions that were taken in the past.
For a chance to win a copy of SHOULD HAVE PLAYED POKER, tell me what you think about its opening line and first few paragraphs – how did you react? Are there other lines in books that you think are masterpiece openings?
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Posted in Let's Talk, with Debra H. Goldstein • Tags: cozy mystery, Debra H Goldstein, Opening Lines, Should Have Played Poker | 25 Comments