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Saturday, April 9, 2011


After the long, cold winter many of us had this year, it’s almost impossible not to look at the snow melting and the flowers blooming with a sigh of relief. There is hope, always, when springtime makes itself known. There is the promise that dark mornings will give way to sunlight and that warmth will replace the shivering of fingers and toes. Ah, spring! It’s a new beginning, with all kinds of new life poking through.

I think that’s why we love story beginnings so much, right? There’s such excitement when you turn to that first page; anything can happen. A character might leap off the page and astound you (or frighten you or offend you or intrigue you…). A setting might whisk you away from reality. A fragment of conversation might pique your interest and make you wonder just what’s going on.

Beginnings are tricky to write, though. Books on the craft of writing abound, and many of them talk in detail about how to structure the opening of your story in just the right way, to hook and keep the reader. Some of the advice always includes the following:

*Don’t start too early. Readers don’t need backstory about your characters in your first line (or even in your first chapter)
*Start with a mystery/some kind of intrigue that immediately makes the reader want to know more.
*Begin with dialogue – thrust your reader right into the middle of a conversation. BUT…
*Keep talk to a minimum – remember that your reader won’t know who any of your characters are when they begin reading. Make sure to ground the dialogue in character or situation context.
*Introduce your voice.
*Establish a mood. What kind of mood is up to you! Do you want suspense? Glee? Frustration? Just where are you starting your story (which brings us back to the first point)

Just for the heck of it, I thought I’d take a look at the first sentences of the books I’ve written and see how well I think they work (some definitely work better than others).

"Get out!" shouted Dakota James as she threw Sean McCabe's jeans - her favorite pair, she noted bitterly, faded in all the right places - across the room. (from One Night in Memphis) – This story was a reader favorite and an EPPIE finalist in 2009. I love this first line because it immediately sets up the conflict that drives most of the plot: a breakup, fiery and laced with reluctance.

Grant Walker knew it was going to be a long day when he woke up and couldn't remember the name of the woman lying next to him. (from One Night in Napa) – Also a reader favorite, especially of the three One Night books. I think this one works because Grant's playboy personality (and how it both gets him in trouble and ultimately changes) is a major focus of the plot.

Summer stared at the solid silver container holding her father's remains. (from Summer's Song) Establishes some intrigue and definitely the conflict that the heroine faces from page one. A dead father. A stoic reaction. What comes next?

"We're out of time." (from One Night in Boston.) I used dialogue here in the opening of my first published novel, heavy on the emphasis of "twenty-four hours" to solve a problem and reach a goal.

Set back from the street, its original coffee color faded to a dusky beige, the house on Lycian Street waited. (from Lost in Paradise) This is the only one of my books that begins with a prologue. While this opening line doesn't engage the same way the others do, it does establish mood and the setting where everything - the good, the bad, the sexy - takes place.

So there you have it! Some opening lines have more power than others, some engage on a different level than others. Regardless, it is something to think about: the power of a beginning, the promise that it holds. Happy spring, everyone! May it give way to all things warm and wonderful in the months to come!

 Allie Boniface is the author of five sweet & sensual contemporary romances. In her spare time, she teaches high school English in New York's Hudson Valley, where she lives with her husband of ten years.


booklover0226 said...

By reading those first lines, I'm ready to buy your books, Allie!

Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com

Tamara said...

Anytime I have ever written anything starting is the hardest part.

Rebekah E. said...

thanks for all of the great first lines.


Judy said...

I really enjoyed your post. I think the beginning of anything is sometimes the hardest.


cheryl c said...

Great first lines! A strong beginning to a story is so important. You need to hook the readers as soon as possible.

castings at mindspring dot com

Maria said...

I loved the opening lines for each of the books you
I think that since a reader's mood can affect how they accept a writer's voice, the opening lines are important but not always a deal breaker....if that makes sense...


Jean P said...

Enjoyed reading your post, strong first lines are often what hooks me, then I have to read more to find out what is going to happen.

skpetal at hotmail dot com

Liz said...

Great post. Still can't decide which of your books is my favorite. It's between Lost In Paradise and Summer's Song.

Wendy S Marcus said...

Great post, Allie!
It's so hard to figure out exactly where to start a story. And those first few lines are soooo important! Thanks for the examples.

Nikki said...

Ahh, yes. First lines are tricky. Great post! :)

chey said...

Great first lines! I'll have to find your books!
chey127 at hotmail dot com

Faith said...

The beginning of a book is the most difficult for me too. You gotta make sure you get that editor or reader's attention and keep it, but you don't want to over do it either.


RenaeBell said...

I really enjoyed your post! I'm struggling so much with my first lines, it helps to know I'm not alone! :)

Pommawolf said...

The first sentences are the first thing that grabs my attention. It tells me that the book is worth it and it makes it to the checkout real quick...*S*
I love that you are a English teacher. The best times in my life was in an english classroom and literature as an older adult in college. I was going to be an english teacher myself as it encourages reading and writing and it stimulates the mind so very much.
Thank you for sharing yours with us,and I have 2 of your on my wish list as well.


pommawolf @ hotmail dot com

charmainegordon author said...

Thanks Allie, for such a bright post. Beginnings are very important as you point out. Grab the reader right away. You're a good teacher.

Anonymous said...

I started writing a story last week, and all those thoughts were running thru my mind. I think the beginning is the hardest..

Spring is my Favorite season, new beginnings and so much hope. I love to watch my garden come to life and spring, it gives me a renewed sense of what life is about.

Happy Spring to all :)


JL Walters said...

Finally here. First lines are alwasy a difficult pick. Sometimes I write as many as ten or twenty before I hit on the one that fits the story to come

Marianne Sciucco said...

Thanks for your insights, Allie. I've enjoyed all of your books. I, too, struggle over first lines. It seems so crucial to get it right. Sometimes I write a first line, get the story motoring, and go back much later to rework the beginning. Things often seem clearer at the end.

Shoshanna Evers said...

Great post! Loved your book beginnings! :)

Cynthia said...


I was around when you birthed many of these lines. I feel like your literary Grandmother. As always, terrific, engaging prose.


Diane said...

Starting or starting over for that matter is never easy in any career; it takes time and lots of patience.

Virginia said...

Thanks for the great first lines and yes I am enjoying warmer tempts not it hit the mid eighties here today.


Marleen Gagnon said...

It has been a long hard winter and there's still snow on the mountains here. First lines are extremely important to grab a readers attention. But you have to hold that attention all the way through the book. Your books do just that. Keep up the good work. Great blog.

Terra Pennington said...

Not sure if I know what snow it. Being from the deep south I don't see how you guys deal with all the snow. Hope spring comes soon for all you who have been snow bound.


EdgesAngel23 said...

Those first lines really make me want to pick up your books! Everytime I've tired to write something the first line was always the hardest. I can never seem to get it quite right...hopefully someday I will be able to figure out the perfect first line :) (lol)
Ashley A

Joni said...

I really enjoyed your blog. I
have a difficult time starting a letter at times let alone writing a book. I am in awe of authors who write the books that take us away from our everyday lives.

Sarita said...

Wonderfully informative!

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Starting for me isn't necessarily hard. But starting again, after writing something you love, that's tough