Jan 26 2011

How to Write a Great First Line for Your Book

Published by at 2:51 am under Introductions

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

When you’re writing the first line of your story, try to accomplish at least one of the following:

1. Show us something interesting about a major character (ideally the lead protagonist).  

  • If you were going to give a gold medal to the least delightful person on Earth, you would have to give that medal to a person named Carmelita Spats, and if you didn’t give it to her, Carmelita Spats was the sort of person who would snatch it from your hands anyway. (Austere Academy).
  • There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
  • I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. (Notes from the Underground).
  • Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting ‘v’ under the more flexible ‘v’ of his mouth. (Maltese Falcon).

 

2. Set something unusual and interesting in motion. YES: A drug-fueled trip across the desert or an execution by firing squad. NO: Waking up and doing a mundane morning routine.

  • They’re out there. Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them. (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
  • The telephone was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was nobody in the room but the corpse. (War in Heaven).
  • We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
  • It was cold at 6:40 in the morning in Paris and seemed even colder when the man was executed by firing squad. (Day of the Jackal).

 

3. Establish the setting with a striking detail, ideally one that sets the mood.

  • Behavioral Science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth. (Silence of the Lambs).
  • It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. (The Bell Jar).
  • The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. (Neuromancer).
  • You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. (Bright Lights, Big City).
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984).

 

4. Introduce an unusual relationship for the main character (with other characters, himself, his surroundings, and/or the readers).

  • All this happened, more or less. (Slaughterhouse-five).
  • Mama died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. (The Stranger).
  • The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. (The Napoleon of Notting Hill).
  • I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. (Infinite Jest).

 

5. Introduce problems and/or conflicts.

  • A screaming comes across the sky. (Gravity’s Rainbow).
  • Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror. (Herbert West, Reanimator).
  • Justice? – You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. (A Frolic of His Own).
  • The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.  (IT).

 

6. Subvert expectations and/or set up eye-catching contrasts, like exploding grandmothers.

  • High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. (Changing Places).
  • It was the day my grandmother exploded. (Crow Road).
  • Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
  • One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. (The Crying of Lot 49).

 

What are some of the best opening lines you’ve encountered?

185 responses so far

185 Responses to “How to Write a Great First Line for Your Book”

  1. steton 12 Dec 2010 at 6:08 pm

    I dunno about best opening lines, but I’ve got dibs on a drug-fueled firing squad.

  2. B. Macon 12 Dec 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Clearly, the best opening would be a drug-fueled firing squad deep underneath the FBI academy giving out awards to the least delightful people on Earth. (Erm, well, I guess firing squads DO give out awards to the least delightful people on Earth, but a different kind of award).

  3. Joel Wyatton 13 Dec 2010 at 6:45 am

    “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” (Neuromancer by William Gibson)

  4. B. Macon 13 Dec 2010 at 11:27 am

    Ah, thanks, I’ve added it to the list.

  5. David Kadavyon 13 Dec 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Great, now I want to read every one of these books 😛

  6. B. Macon 13 Dec 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I think the best opening lines are hooks to the book. Indeed, the opening line of The Bell Jar is pretty much the only thing I can say nice things about.

    PS: David, I find your website’s “Contacting Kadavy” section dangerously funny.

  7. B. Macon 13 Dec 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Highly-regarded opening lines I find unimpressive:

    “Call me Ishmael.” (Moby Dick). The American Book Review ranked this as the best opening line ever. PS: When I encounter a story with a first line of “Call me [name]” or “My name is [X], but you can call me [Y],” I usually stop reading unless there’s something strikingly interesting about the names.

    “I am an invisible man.” (Invisible Man).

    “In a sense, I am Jacob Horner.” (The End of the Road).

    “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” (David Copperfield).

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (Tale of Two Cities, whose publisher not surprisingly paid by the world).

    “Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book about the jungle called True Stories.” (The Little Prince).

  8. Milanon 14 Dec 2010 at 9:04 am

    Such a chasm between the good and the bad.

    I just went through the last several decent books I read, and none had a killer opening line compared to some of the good ones you’ve listed here. It seems like a great hook opportunity missed, though perhaps not absolutely essential.

  9. Matt Mooreon 14 Dec 2010 at 9:42 am

    I love how this line begins grand in scope, but then narrows down to such precise detail:

    “The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

    – IT by Stephen King

  10. B. Macon 14 Dec 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I don’t think an excellent opening line is essential, but I think it helps, especially for a first-time author buried in the slush pile.

  11. Samon 16 Dec 2010 at 8:05 pm

    I’m rather fond of the first line of 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” That the clocks were striking thirteen is unusual and jarring, and because thirteen is considered an unlucky number, it gives the sentence and even more ominous tone.

    My favorite first line, though, is from Poe’s short story, “A Cask of Amontillado” — “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” It certainly raises questions: what were these injuries? What was the insult? Yet those questions are never answered, and when you realize that the narrator is a madman, you have to wonder if Fortunato actually inflicted any injuries or insult upon him at all.

  12. […] Some tips about writing excellent opening lines […]

  13. Alex.on 05 Mar 2011 at 10:02 am

    What would be a good and interesting opening line of a girl starting a new school, as her family have moved away to get away from the grief of another dead family member? 🙂

  14. The Jedi Penguinon 24 May 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Nothing comes to mind for favourite opening lines of published works.

    However, I’m rather fond of this line that I wrote myself:
    “So my best friend gets stolen by fairies, I’m trapped in an alternate universe and worst of all, everything we say and do is being broadcast on television for the entire multi-verse to see. (Well except Earth. They still don’t have intergalactic cable, much less trans-dimensional.)”

    @Alex.
    It really depends on the mood and tone of the story and what you’re trying to emphasize. Is the beginning of the story focused on the girl starting school? The family moving? The grief from the death of another family member?

  15. Aj of Earthon 04 Aug 2011 at 8:33 am

    “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” (DT1: The Gunslinger, S. King)

    “A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind’s forward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air.” (Wicked, G. Maguire)

  16. EducatedAmateuron 04 Oct 2011 at 8:44 pm

    I am writing a story and I wanted your opinion of the Title and the first line.
    I am vacillating back and forth between calling the story “The Idiot’s Guide to Dragonslaying”, or “Dragonslayers Anonymous”.

    The first chapter is called “All Things Considered, Spitting in a Dragon’s Eye is Probably a Bad Idea.” (Too wordy?)

    This is the first line: “When a dragon explodes in your face, splattering blood and guts and bits of brain all over your new suede leather leggings and boots, staining them horribly (and leaving a stench that will never wash out), it is pretty much a sure sign that you’re having a bad day.”

    What do you think?

  17. B. McKenzieon 05 Oct 2011 at 9:47 am

    I think Dragonslayers Anonymous is very interesting. It gives the genre and an interesting twist on the genre in just two words. The Idiot’s Guide to Dragonslaying makes it sound like one of those how-to books (and, legally speaking, the people that write those how-to books may own the rights to The Idiot’s Guide to _____–so, if you submit a story with that title and it’s otherwise publishable, a publisher might pick it up but ask you to change the title later. Not a huge deal).

    “All Things Considered, Spitting in a Dragon’s Eye is Probably a Bad Idea” strikes me as a bit wordy. I don’t think 13 words is necessarily too much, just that “All Things Considered” is probably unnecessary and can be removed. If you’re going for a self-help feel, you could go for something like “Three Reasons Spitting in a Dragon’s Eye Is Probably a Bad Idea.” By the way, on a really nitpicky note, “Is” is often capitalized in titles because it’s a verb.

    “When a dragon explodes in your face, splattering blood and guts and bits of brain all over your new suede leather leggings and boots, staining them horribly (and leaving a stench that will never wash out), it is pretty much a sure sign that you’re having a bad day.” I feel this is a mostly effective opening sentence–good job! One suggestion I have is to make the third clause (“staining them horribly (and leaving a stench that will never wash out),”) a bit less awkward. I’d recommend rephrasing the sentence as something like “When a dragon explodes in your face, splattering blood and guts and bits of brain all over your new suede leather leggings and leaving a stench that will never wash out of your boots, it is pretty much guaranteed that you’re having a bad day.”

  18. EducatedAmateuron 05 Oct 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Thanks!

  19. Grenacon 10 Nov 2011 at 11:08 am

    I like that this article has clear examples from published books, it helps me understand the information more clearly.

  20. SilverWolfon 02 Feb 2012 at 9:21 pm

    One of my favourite openings is a paragraph from a book by Sarah Cross, called Dull Boy;

    “Maybe I need a costume.
    Trust me–I don’t want to wear a costume.
    Skintight spandex isn’t really my thing,and the ski-mask-plus-bathing-suit combo didn’t exactly inspire confidence when I tried it on (please forget I even mentioned that), and where am I supposed to find a leather jumpsuit? But the point is I have to consider all my options.
    And before you start thinking that I’m a complete freak, I should probably admit something:
    I have superpowers.”

    There are probably plenty other better opening lines, but that was the first good one that popped into my head. XD

  21. legolosarrowon 22 Mar 2012 at 4:13 pm

    How does, “Well, kicking the king of this planet in the balls was either the best or worst idea I have ever had.” sound?

  22. kkkstrikison 25 Apr 2012 at 1:33 pm

    This is the first line of a book I haven’t completely ploted out yet.

    Imagine this: you have just gotten off of a particularly gruesome day at school, gone to the local MiniMart for a sandwich, and you are now walking home to work on your AP Physics homework, when suddenly, and without warning, you are hit by a car.”

  23. B. McKenzieon 25 Apr 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Strikis, some thoughts and suggestions…

    –I’m not feeling the second-person narration here. I think the reader needs to really care about the character for 2PN to work.

    –“suddenly, and without warning” is redundant. I think you could cut both because “you are hit by a car” comes out of nowhere, so it’s sudden and without warning even if you haven’t explicitly told us that.

    –We don’t learn anything particularly interesting about the main character. He/she likes sandwiches–I think that could be cut. He/she is good at high school physics. It might be possible to incorporate physics into the setup of the car accident. Details would probably help make this story and character come alive. Instead of just claiming that it’s been a “particularly gruesome day at school,” it might be more memorable if you give us at least a few words about what made it so gruesome.

  24. kkkstrikison 27 Apr 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Well the school and sandwich thing aren’t really important to the story, they are just there to give you a feel for the character. And the two point narration is just for the reader to imagine how they would feel in that situation, it’s really just meant to hook the reader, the entire book is going to be done in first person. And I just liked how the “suddenly, and without warning sounded” but I do see your point about it being redundant. But here is a new version.

    Imagine this: you have just ended a particularly gruesome day at school — even though it wasn’t your fault that the fireworks actually went off — you have just gotten a bite to eat, and you are now walking home to work on your AP History homework, when suddenly you are hit by a car.

  25. B. McKenzieon 28 Apr 2012 at 12:33 am

    “…you just ended a particularly gruesome day at school — even though it wasn’t your fault that the fireworks actually went off…” I like this much better. I love the use of implication here.

    –The second-person narration here still feels a bit awkward to me. If you are deep enough into this project that you should be spending a lot of time rewriting this scene, I’d recommend asking your beta reviewers what they think. (If you’re not that far along, the scene is fine for now and I would suggest forging ahead with new material. I’d recommend finishing the first draft of the manuscript before doing any heavy rewriting).

    –“you have just gotten a bite to eat”–could you revise this to show something interesting and/or notable about the character? For example, maybe there’s something this character does at the sandwich place or while eating that helps develop the main character vs. 90%+ of other protagonists. 100% of protagonists eat, so just mentioning that this character eats doesn’t do very much to separate him/her.

    –“and you are now walking home to work on your AP History homework, when suddenly you are hit by a car.” Possible rephrase: “and you were walking home to work on your [more specific/interesting phrase–help build some impression]* when the car hit.” I like the contrast between playing with fireworks at school and doing advanced coursework, but I feel the coursework would be more interesting if we saw something specific.

    *If this detail doesn’t help develop the character in an interesting way, then I would recommend then I would recommend shortening the phrase from “walking home to work on your AP History homework…” to “walking home…”

  26. ShadowofLighton 02 May 2012 at 5:11 pm

    “It was a freezing summer morning and the blood red sky was quickly being veiled by a blanket of storm clouds, a perfect day for the world to end. ”

    Just wanted experienced opinions on my opening line and its flow. Is it too wordy, or have too many adjectives? Also, am I grammatically allowed to add that last clause?

  27. B. McKenzieon 02 May 2012 at 7:42 pm

    “Is it too wordy, or have too many adjectives?” I think that’s a good catch on the adjectives. I’d recommend showing more with actions and telling less with adjectives. For example, you might be able to create a more effective emotional impression by having something freezing (or perhaps animals shuddering in the cold) than by telling us it’s freezing cold.

    “the blood red sky was quickly being veiled by a blanket of storm clouds…” I’d like more sinister terms here than “veiled” and “blanket.” What do you think about something like “the crimson sky was quickly smothered by [sinister modifier] clouds” (or rephrasing this phrase more actively, like “[sinister modifier] clouds quickly smothered the crimson sky”)?

    “It was a perfect day for the world to end.” First, I’d recommend moving this thought into its own sentence. Second, would it be possible to get a character or narrator more distinctly into this sentence?* Who is it telling us this is the perfect day for the world to end? (*For example, if the main character is the narrator, could he/she phrase this more unusually so that we get a feel for his/her voice?)

    “Am I grammatically allowed to add that last clause?” Right now, it feels like a run-on sentence and maybe a case of a misplaced modifier (“quickly being veiled by a blanket of storm clouds, a perfect day for the world to end” suggests that the blanket of storm clouds is the perfect day for the world to end).

  28. mattskion 26 May 2012 at 10:40 pm

    I’m working on a superhero story at would like opinions on both my title and opening. The title I have in mind is “Waiting to Die, but Learning to Fly” and the story begins as such.

    I approached the house slowly by foot, the extra time I’d taken by not flying now a blessing, as nature itself began to turn against me, the winter air conspiring with my own lack of sleep to slow my thoughts and ruin days of intricate planning. I raced through hundreds of outcomes each second, ensuring I was adequately prepared for them all, the whole time wondering “Is this how a regular person thinks?”

    Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated!

  29. B. McKenzieon 27 May 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Matt, it sounds okay, but I’m not a huge fan of the character’s flowery voice. It might help to insert distinct details (e.g. anything that would help develop the house, anything to show that he’s tired, anything to show that his planning has been intricate, any of the outcomes he’s thinking about, etc). It might also help to separate these two sentences into three, because they’re pretty long as it is.

    As for the title, I’d recommend tweaking it to “Waiting to Die and Learning to Fly” or “Waiting to Die, Learning to Fly” because the contrast between the two doesn’t feel intuitive to me.

  30. mattskion 31 May 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Thanks heaps, this information will be a great deal of help!

  31. Andrew Purdumon 30 Jun 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I’m working on a story based on a character named Charlemagne, whom has the ability to change his biological functions(Such as strength, speed, and the ability to stretch long distances but NOT form new items) through a machine called the Antax. This is my introductory statement, what do you think of it?

    “Machinery does not always improve the quality of life. To Charlemagne, life would be simpler without them. There would be neither pain, anarchy, nor destruction. To him, machines ravage his life and engrave him to the slave he has become. Everybody desires machines, but what exactly do they demand from them? Maybe the security they provide, or the satisfaction they ensure. But what security does he provide? Is he not merely a machine with feelings? Why of course he is human, but the machine called the Antax makes him something dangerous, something hideous.”

  32. dragondevilon 15 Sep 2012 at 6:17 am

    What do you think would be a good opening line for the comic/GN I am working on?

    The situation: The character is facing a very-powerful demon who has beaten the heck out of him and is now trying to get up.

    And B.mac , do you think it would be a bad idea to start a story with the hero all-bloody and beaten-up?Would readers even give a damn?!
    As you stated in some of your other pages..that the readers should care about the protagonist…

    And what do you think of the name : RAKSHAK?
    It means savior in Hindi.
    If I am selling it in India…

    *In my story the hero is the son of a Hindu God and he is bitten by a demon(thus inflicting a curse on him).Later his mother is kidnapped by the demon and he needs to drink the somaras to activate his powers but this would also make the curse stronger!
    *What other ways can you suggest to give the hero god-like or demon-like abilities?(blessing?)

    Thanx in Advance ! ^_^

  33. B. McKenzieon 15 Sep 2012 at 10:13 am

    “The character is facing a very-powerful demon who has beaten the heck out of him and is now trying to get up. B. Mac, do you think it would be a bad idea to start a story with the hero all-bloody and beaten-up? Would readers even give a damn?!” Unless you have some ideas about how to use this fight to develop the characters (preferably including the villain as well–for example, does he have an interesting personality?), I wouldn’t recommend it. Otherwise, it might be more promising to start the story in the aftermath of this terrible fight. (For example, Watchmen starts shortly after the Ozymandias-Comedian fight… homicide detectives are investigating the Comedian’s murder).



    “What do you think would be a good opening line for the comic/GN I am working on?” I don’t know much (if anything) about the character or what makes him interesting or distinct. I’m missing more than 90% of the plot, too, so it’s hard for me to offer an opening line that would develop something interesting about the character, the mood/setting, or the plot. I’d recommend checking out the first few pages of Kick-Ass #1 for a really distinct opening sequence that helps set the mood and show readers what they’d be missing if they put the book down.



    “What do you think of the name Rakshak? It means savior in Hindi and I’m selling it in India.” It makes sense, although it might be a bit heavy-handed. (At least, that’s how I’d feel if I were reading a comic about a hero named Savior). I think this name might actually work better if the readers DON’T know the translation. (In a perhaps-similar situation, I thought it would be too corny to name the villain something like Dr. Evil, so I took the Spanish word “malo” (bad/evil) and anglicized it as “Mallow.”

  34. dragondevilon 16 Sep 2012 at 2:14 am

    #”Unless you have some ideas about how to use this fight to develop the characters ”
    Yes,I was thinking of starting the story with the hero all beaten-up by the villain and then faints ….and then I show how he ended up there in a form of a flash-back or just bits of memories and the climax brings us back to the hero who has now recovered from the wounds(accelerated healing or some other reason I am thinking of).

    *My character’s personality in few words:
    *Recklessly brave
    *Wise-cracker
    *Does not prefer fights
    *would do ANYTHING to save his loved ones!

    *In my story the hero is the son of a Hindu God and he is bitten by a demon(thus inflicting a curse on him).Later his mother is kidnapped by the demon and he needs to drink the somaras to activate his powers but this would also make the curse stronger!

    *I am still not sure whether to make the hero the son of a God or a Demon… :/
    *I really want the protagonist to have a demon-like/dark personality!
    *In one of my previous questions you suggested making the source of powers :a blessing.(I really think it would make it much-less believable in a story with gods and demons.. :P)
    *What other ways can you suggest to give the hero god-like or demon-like abilities?

    Thanx a lot!!

  35. Kyle Brackmanon 04 Jan 2013 at 11:31 am

    In a hole there lived a hobbit (The Hobbit).

  36. Kirbyon 04 Jan 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Can I have a critique on these first lines?

    “While the rest of her eighth grade class was searching their textbooks attempting to puzzle through graphing inequalities, Becky was lost in a somewhat different book: ‘The Spell of the Illuminati’.”

    “‘Good morning, Maya!’ I said to my favorite combat mech.”

    “My introduction to college was finding my new roommate sprawled out on the floor of our dorm, wearing Superman pajamas and playing Pokemon. He didn’t even notice I was there for a solid five minutes.”

  37. acharaon 04 Jan 2013 at 6:52 pm

    How are these opening lines? I’m having big trouble starting out one short-ish story, so I wrote two different openings with different tones (the top ones).

    1) “Faye hadn’t known what to expect when she had answered an advertisement for an exorcist’s assistant, but it certainly wasn’t… this. Whatever this was.”

    2) “Some days she almost forgot about the wall of solid air seperating Here and There.”

    3) I didn’t know who they were, what they were, why they were. Maybe they weren’t.”

    4)”They called themselves freedom fighters and we called them terrorists. The results whenever they found their way into the Dome were the same, no matter what they were called: carnage, destruction, death.”

    5) “I had never watched a Bloodsport gladiator fight. I had merely supplied the gladiators.”

  38. B. McKenzieon 04 Jan 2013 at 8:36 pm

    “‘Good morning, Maya!’ I said to my favorite combat mech.” — Heh. I like the implied characterization here. I love the contrast between the name Maya and the greeting (which both strike me as cheerful) and the battle-mech element. I’m not sure how you would keep up this tone, but I’d definitely keep reading. It might be possible to come up with a smoother phrase than “combat mech.”

    “While the rest of her eighth grade class was searching their textbooks attempting to puzzle through graphing inequalities, Becky was lost in a somewhat different book: ‘The Spell of the Illuminati’.” –> I love this. I see some minor tweaks here (e.g. cutting “a somewhat different book” because readers can easily infer that the Illuminati book is different and perhaps replacing “Spell” with something more descriptive and memorable), but I love the contrast between Becky and her classmates. As with the first story, I’d definitely keep reading. More so than the first story’s introduction, this strikes me as the sort of opening line which is not only solid in its own regard but hints at a very interesting work moving forward.

    “My introduction to college was finding my new roommate sprawled out on the floor of our dorm, wearing Superman pajamas and playing Pokemon. He didn’t even notice I was there for a solid five minutes.” Whereas the unusualness in the first two opening lines is exciting and develops characters in such a way that I want to learn more about them, the weirdness here makes me want to run away from this story. Also, think about the demographics here. At least 50% of editors are more-than-casual fans of at least one pursuit which might be derided as juvenile and/or otherwise embarrassing (e.g. Disney/Pixar movies, video games, trashy romance novels, cartoons, superheroes and comic books), and God help you if it’s anime conventions or Comic-Con.

  39. Kirbyon 04 Jan 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Thanks for the advice! Though I’m not exactly sure what you mean by the demographics. Are you saying that I should change it, or that I shouldn’t?

  40. B. McKenzieon 04 Jan 2013 at 9:21 pm

    “Faye hadn’t known what to expect when she had answered an advertisement for an exorcist’s assistant, but it certainly wasn’t… this. Whatever this was.” Although this is slightly coy with the use of pronouns (“this” repeated), I think the deliberate vagueness contrasts nicely with the context (she’s an exorcist’s assistant). I’d definitely keep going. That said, I think Faye could probably come across as more interesting here. “Faye hadn’t known what to expect when” could probably be replaced with a more interesting phrase. For one thing, “it certainly wasn’t… this. Whatever this was” does a good job showing/implying that this all is highly unexpected to her.

    “Some days she almost forgot about the wall of solid air seperating Here and There.” On the plus side, I think this does a pretty good job setting up a story along the lines of (say) Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth. I’d recommend replacing “she” with a more descriptive word/phrase, though–for example, this would be a very intuitive point to introduce the character’s name. I like how the phrase “Some days [Character] almost forgot…” subtly implies a contrast between the character and her surroundings.

    “I didn’t know who they were, what they were, why they were. Maybe they weren’t.” I’d pass. The pronouns here are very coy. At the very least, I’d recommend giving us some scraps of information so that we wonder about who they are. I’d recommend replacing “Maybe they weren’t” with something that either develops the characters or advances the plot.

    “They called themselves freedom fighters and we called them terrorists. The results whenever they found their way into the Dome were the same, no matter what they were called: carnage, destruction, death.” Could be more effective–e.g. the narration could be more subtle. I’d recommend showing the difference between how these guys are perceived either as freedom fighters or terrorists more subtly (e.g. more through implication, showing and action than by explicit narration). Additionally, the second sentence makes the history of violence comes across as somehow routine and monotonous–inserting a bit of charm into sentences 1 and 2 might help. Maybe something like “Apparently the freedom fighters had found their way into the Dome again, if the trail of limbs was any indication.” I think the matter-of-factness of the narrator in mentioning the trail of limbs will help imply that this sort of violence is chronic and has mentally affected the locals.

    “I had never watched a Bloodsport gladiator fight. I had merely supplied the gladiators.” First, there are two VERY different ways to interpret “supplied”, and I don’t think the ambiguity is helpful. The character might be a slaver providing gladiators for the deathmatches, or he might be a ~shopkeeper providing supplies to the gladiators. Second, the stakes here strike me as very low so far. He doesn’t sound like he cares very much about what’s going on–if he doesn’t, there probably isn’t much reason for readers to, either. I’d recommend checking out Infinite Jest for an example of a story that made an occasionally indifferent main character really work.

  41. B. McKenzieon 04 Jan 2013 at 10:00 pm

    “Are you saying that I should change it, or that I shouldn’t?” I would strongly recommend reworking the opening. Major publishers reject 998-999 out of every 1000 unsolicited submissions. A publisher’s assistant (or editorial assistant or assistant editor or anyone on the acquisitions committee) who was offended by the implied shots at superhero and anime fans would not have trouble finding a spot for you on Team Form-Rejection.

  42. Kirbyon 04 Jan 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Okay, I get it now. My problem was that I didn’t realize people would interpret it as a cheap shot. I love video games to bits myself, especially Pokemon, and it wasn’t my intention at all to insult fans of them. I just wanted the character to sound like someone who’s enjoys having fun. Thanks very much for the feedback!

  43. B. McKenzieon 04 Jan 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Proposed suggestions:
    –Making the gamer seem more like a human and maybe exchanging his weirdness for quirkiness would probably help. Some examples: Replacing the Superman pajamas with something like a Superman t-shirt, make his personality more interesting, etc. I’d recommend checking out the Scott Pilgrim series for examples of video game fans with memorable scenes.

    “I just wanted the character to sound like someone who enjoys having fun.” It might help to make his opening appearance more energetic (e.g. exchanging trash talk with an opponent about how he’s going to beat in Solid Snake’s face with Pichu and/or trolling his opponent with Donkey Kong’s suicide-grab). Right now, he sounds sort of entranced/comatose.

    –I’d recommend making sure that you quickly establish something which suggests his relationship with his roommate will be interesting. E.g. perhaps a notable reaction from one towards something the other does? Otherwise, please don’t lead with him meeting his roommate. 🙂

  44. acharaon 05 Jan 2013 at 5:02 am

    1) Would the coyness in the first one be okay if I began the second paragraph with exactly what ‘this’ is?
    3) Good point – I’ll try to use less pronouns overall in my writing.
    4) I like your revision! I’ll try to incorporate some of your advice.
    5) Ah, sorry about the confusion – he’s a slave trader, supplying the gladiators in a human trafficking ring. Maybe amending the sentence to “I had merely provided the gladiators” would work better?

  45. B. McKenzieon 05 Jan 2013 at 12:17 pm

    1) Probably.

    3) I don’t think that pronouns in general are a problem, but undefined pronouns (pronouns without antecedents) can be, particularly early on (because we don’t have very much context or emotional attachment to the characters/story). In opening lines, I would generally regard an undefined pronoun as less effective than something more informative/descriptive.

    4) Thanks.

    5) “Provided” is much clearer than “supplied.” But the opening would still come across as low-stakes, I think. Instead of starting with something which doesn’t apparently matter to him (the bloodmatches), it might help to lead with something that does. For example, perhaps a business deal gone bad or something else interesting about the guys buying the gladiators? Along the way, you can imply that he doesn’t care all that much about the fights themselves.

  46. YoungAuthoron 05 Jan 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Here’s a couple first lines from some stories I’ve been working on, any feedback would be helpful.

    “Tyler shot up, leaping a foot in the air under the blanket of his bed. Sweat was dripping off his forehead and making a lake in his lap. His chest was heaving and his plain white tee was saturated. The byproducts of another nightmare.”

    __________________________________________________________________

    “The building loomed over him, reeking of unlimited power and an unchangeable fate. Kevin Hartline swaggered into his dad’s skyscraper, his headphones blasting around his neck and his baggy grey sweatpants threatening to fall down around his shiny white high-tops. He pulled off the hood of his grey sweater and came up to the grey receptionist desk.”

    ___________________________________________________________________

    “The lights flicked off and the door to the corridor hissed shut. Adrian stood with his back to the wall, his obsidian cloak doing well to hide him. His eyes adjusted in seconds to the darkness and he slid his laser-katana from his combat belt. His hand rested on the ON button of the cool rusty metallic handle as he slowly stalked towards the guards in front of him.
    “You cannot escape assassin,” said a man. “My guards will over power you.”

    these are separate stories

  47. B. McKenzieon 05 Jan 2013 at 10:58 pm

    #1: “Tyler shot up, leaping a foot in the air under the blanket of his bed. Sweat was dripping off his forehead and making a lake in his lap. His chest was heaving and his plain white tee was saturated. The byproducts of another nightmare.”

    –The character could be a lot more interesting. For example, I’d recommend checking out these three openings by Kirby and Achara above:
    –>“‘Good morning, Maya!’ I said to my favorite combat mech.”
    –>“While the rest of her eighth grade class was searching their textbooks attempting to puzzle through graphing inequalities, Becky was lost in a somewhat different book: ‘The Spell of the Illuminati’.”
    –>”“Faye hadn’t known what to expect when she had answered an advertisement for an exorcist’s assistant, but it certainly wasn’t… this. Whatever this was.”

    Each of these examples suggests what’s going wrong for the main characters (the student apart from her peers and the unprepared exorcist’s assistant) or builds a crazy and interesting contrast (the cheerful soldier greeting her favorite mech and the Illuminati book vs. math textbooks). In contrast, in three sentences, we’ve only learned that your character is having trouble with nightmares, but we don’t know anything about what’s wrong.

    The language in #1 could be smoother and more natural. It sounds a bit thesaurus-ish (e.g. “byproducts of another nightmare”).

    #2: “The building loomed over him, reeking of unlimited power and an unchangeable fate. Kevin Hartline swaggered into his dad’s skyscraper, his headphones blasting around his neck and his baggy grey sweatpants threatening to fall down around his shiny white high-tops. He pulled off the hood of his grey sweater and came up to the grey receptionist desk.”

    The language in the first sentence could be a lot smoother and more natural. Additionally, I don’t think this imagery is important or interesting enough to make the opening sentence.

    The character could be developed a lot better. Right now, he’s not very interesting and we don’t know much about him besides that he swaggers. It’s hard to say, but he comes across as more unlikable than not. (In contrast, I was definitely feeling the unexpectedly cheerful mecha pilot, the math student/Illuminati scholar and fish-out-of-water exorcist’s assistant). I’d recommend cutting most of the visual details and/or at least making them more memorable. When you’re introducing major characters, I’d recommend focusing on what actually makes an impression. For example, the baggy pants and hooded sweatshirt could probably be removed early on because they’re kind of mundane, and the three repetitions of “grey” are gratuitous.

    He doesn’t get a chance to do anything interesting–he took the first three sentences to walk into a building. Point of reference: most unsolicited submissions are rejected within the first paragraph, and I would have put the book down after line 2.

    #3: I’d recommend starting over on this one. The hero and villain could be a lot more interesting/better-developed, and the cyberpunk/sci-fi elements could have been incorporated more naturally. (For example, is there any reason to mention the ON button on the katana except to remind us that it’s sci-fi? It feels sort of redundant with calling it a laser-katana). Especially with first-time authors, I’d recommend spending at least a bit of time making us care about the characters before launching into the action scenes. Lastly, I’d recommend reading more sci-fi/cyberpunk–this could be a lot more distinctive and memorable.

    PS: ““You cannot escape assassin,” said a man..” When a line is addressed to a character (whether a name or a title, such as “assassin” here), please set off the name with commas. “You cannot escape, assassin,…” I think the typo changes the meaning of the sentence. When I read through your sentence for the first time, I mistakenly assumed that what you meant to write was “You cannot escape my assassin.” Major typo in first page = quick rejection.

  48. Nayanon 05 Jan 2013 at 11:58 pm

    At first, I was going to have main character of my comic book waking up from a nightmare. But then I realised this type opening was cliche. Now I am planning to show the nightmare visually and then cut the scene to a gym where the main character is training with a punching bad while talking about the nightmares to his psychiatrist father. Is it workable?

  49. Karmaon 06 Jan 2013 at 1:43 am

    Or maybe you can show the character thinking about his past with each punch that he gives to the bag. And then he lets out his anger by giving a mega punch.

    lol,it sounds kinda funny this way…but hope you get what I mean.

    I think what you mentioned sounds good enough too…^_^

  50. B. McKenzieon 06 Jan 2013 at 2:37 am

    “Or maybe you can show the character thinking about his past with each punch that he gives to the bag. And then he lets out his anger by giving a mega punch.” The cinematic Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter executed a similar scene (AL’s mentor tests his strength and motivation–the characterization was more effective than I had expected).

    “Now I am planning to show the nightmare visually and then cut the scene to a gym where the main character is training with a punching bad while talking about the nightmares to his psychiatrist father. Is it workable?” Depending on how interesting the father and son are, it could be very promising.

  51. Innocent Bystanderon 24 Feb 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Best opening line I’ve read?

    “The building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault.” Jim Butcher’s “Blood Rites.”

    I know the beginning goes against your rule about not starting in the middle of an action scene, but since this book is in a series (and not the first) I think I’ll let it slide. Besides, even if I’m a newcomer it tells me several things about the book: the protagonist tends to get into dangerous situations and is somewhat infamous for committing arson (intentional or not), as well as the book’s tone.

    But really, it’s just too damn funny not to mention.

  52. B. McKenzieon 24 Feb 2013 at 4:04 pm

    “I know the beginning goes against your rule about not starting in the middle of an action scene…” I’m not adverse to starting with an action scene. I think the difference between a well-executed introductory action scene and the ones I usually see* are whether the characters actually get developed in some interesting direction. “…it wasn’t my fault” sounds promising on that front.

    *Usually a faceless, forgettable hero beating up faceless, forgettable goons or faceless, forgettable heroes running away from a faceless, cryptic threat. Readers don’t have much reason to care.

  53. DDTLon 11 Apr 2013 at 8:07 am

    Hi there!

    First of all I really love your website and all these really great advices you are giving us!

    My book open with a sort of national anthem (nazi-communist propaganda style), since I would hardly call it a prologue I don’t know if it really counts. My first line would be:

    “A giant sorting center filtering the best of the two reptilian species, this was how Xue was seeing the place.”

    (I’m writing in french so this is a rough translation…)

    Thanks in advance!

  54. WinslowMudDon 11 Apr 2013 at 11:32 am

    B. Mac. On that account, then if Injustice was made into a movie at some point (which I am sure that Hollywood would love to do), then it would probably start off like that. I.E., if you have seen the previews for it, it pretty much pits all of our…erm…favorite(?) heroes from DC against each other, including heroes and villains working agianst other heroes and villains. One faction is essentially tired of the running gag that when you arrest someone and they leave throught the revolving door, they just end up fighting you againa week later. So they become more violent and assertive over how they deal with criminals, possibly expanding to just people in general. The other faction, (the one with Bruce and Lex 😉 )doesnt want to see the “heroes” essentially use their overpowered selves to end up killing anyone who they deem is evil. Some of this is my speculation, while some is indirectly stated in the trailer. Also, i can imagine an epic final boss fight with BW vs CK, I mean, BM vs SM…or does it matter?

  55. Dr. Vo Spaderon 11 Apr 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I too am excited for Injustice. Also, I’m very impressed with how far DC has allowed them to go with the costumes. They’ve done a very impressive job.

  56. WinslowMudDon 11 Apr 2013 at 6:18 pm

    I completely agree.

  57. B. McKenzieon 11 Apr 2013 at 6:24 pm

    With a better translation, I think the line would be very good*. I think it’ll fit the creepy vibe of the Nazi/Communist-style anthem. I love the visuals, though I think Xue could come across a little bit more clearly. For example, if “how Xue was seeing the place” were changed into “how Xue envisioned the place,” it’d be clearer that he either helped plan it or was perhaps hopeful about it, whereas “how Xue found the place” would make it clearer that this is new to him. I think these more specific phrases would tell us something more about Xue than just that he saw (or was seeing) the place.

    *The translation is a bit rough, but that’s sort of beyond the point… sans importance… whatever.

  58. DDTLon 16 Apr 2013 at 5:58 am

    Hi B.Mac!

    Thanks for your answer! Sorry I just saw it… I thought I would receive an alert by e-mail in case of reply…

    So a few explanation about my universe, which is an alternate reality where dinosaurs survived and evoloved into two intelligent species (named Sauriens and Dragons) alongside us humans and a fourth specie called Archangels.

    In the nazi-communist anthem which opens the story I (try to) make it clear that the story takes place in a “reptilian” totalitarian dictatorship ruled and inhabited by both Saurians and Dragons, building cities, having armies, with slaves and citizens and so on.
    Xue is herself (yeah, she is female) a reptile (Dragon) born, or should I say hatched, in the ghetto of the capital city (the “giant sorting center”, where the slaves grow and are “filtered” by natural selection). She belongs to this slum and had to survive through it ! So the idea would be more that either she got used to see this place in that angle, or that she kind of realized the true purpose of the ghetto after two year of an everyday war for survival…

    The start of my story is tricky because I have to present quickly : the NON-HUMAN main character, her goal and the NON-HUMAN universe… And by NON-HUMAN as you can see I don’t mean Elf or something cute, so I expect to be quite hard for the audience to feel sympathy right away for a “lizard girl”… If you want I can translate the anthem or the first paragraph for you to have a better idea?

  59. An Anonymous Readeron 18 Jul 2013 at 12:09 am

    What do you think of the opening line: “This story ends with a funeral”? It’s the opening line to the book I’m writing, but I fear it might be a bit too boring. Although I guess there is some contrast, what with giving away a part of the ending at the beginning, but I’m not sure if it’s interesting enough to provoke the reader’s curiosity. What do you think?

  60. B. McKenzieon 18 Jul 2013 at 6:22 am

    AAR, I think it could have a lot more personality to it. Something to show off the authorial style and/or mood of the story. For example, “Like all [INSERT DISTINCTIVE COMPARISON], this ends with [UNUSUAL DETAIL] and a funeral.”

    “Like every great trip to Tijuana, this ends with a three-state high-speed chase and a funeral.”

  61. Nayanon 18 Jul 2013 at 7:28 am

    I think the first line of a novel should give idea about the genre of the book. For example -first line of a comedy should be comic.

    My novel is an action thriller. Can I get an opinion on the first line?

    “Jason looked at his father in disbelief who was pointing a revolver at his forehead.”

  62. Proxie#0on 18 Jul 2013 at 9:19 am

    It sounds interesting Nayan, but might I advise a little revision. To me it sounds a little…awkward. An example of a revision could be:

    “Jason looked at his father, who had the cool muzzle of his revolver pointed at his sons forehead, in disbelief.

    —or—

    Jason looked down the long, slender barrel of the revolver in disbelief, surprised to see his father as the one staring back down at him.

  63. Elecon 19 Jul 2013 at 2:08 am

    I personally think the second line is a little better.

  64. B. McKenzieon 21 Jul 2013 at 2:17 am

    “Jason looked at his father, who had the cool muzzle of his revolver pointed at his son’s forehead, in disbelief” and “Jason looked down the long, slender barrel of the revolver in disbelief, surprised to see his father as the one staring back down at him.” Some thoughts:

    1) If the son is doing something that 99% of people would do in the same situation, I’d recommend showing it. For example, in this case, I’d recommend implying that he’s surprised and/or in disbelief because I think this is a pretty typical response for someone who has his father pointing a gun at him. If the son is doing something which most people would NOT do, then it might be harder for readers to pick up on what you’re trying to show, so being a bit more explicit might help. (For example, on the fifth sample page for The Taxman Must Die, I had Gary explicitly ask Orange if he was being serious because Orange was acting so far out of the ordinary that I wanted readers to have a better idea of “is Orange actually like this, or is he just trolling a rookie partner?”)

    2) The father comes across as more distinctive and interesting to me here — he’s doing something unusual, whereas the son feels more generic in this sentence.

    3) The son comes across as very passive here. There’s a gun pointed at his forehead and he doesn’t do or say anything. He’s just innerly surprised. It might be more interesting if he said or did something instead (which you could also use to advance the scene and/or develop characters).

    4) I like the phrasing on the second version better, and I think “surprised to see his father as the one staring back down at him” could be shortened to “surprised to see his father staring back.”

  65. Proxie#0on 21 Jul 2013 at 5:46 pm

    I simply revised the sentence provided as I have no idea where Nayan wanted to take the story, nor whether his characters personality would permit him to take such action against the father.

    Now, if this were my character, Audrey, in my own story, things…very different things would happen. For example, she would probably not be confused, but even more (and with a better reason as well) pissed off at her father. She would probably try to disarm him, and could very well “accidentally kill him…if it were at THAT part of the story. Otherwise, he would have a headache in the morning from a pistol-whip to the forehead.

  66. B. McKenzieon 21 Jul 2013 at 6:52 pm

    “Now, if this were my character, Audrey, in my own story, things…very different things would happen.” Heh. That sounds interesting (as long as there is some chance that making a move on a gun pointed at her will get her shot or otherwise result in dire consequences — her decisions will be more interesting if there are consequences, one way or the other).

  67. Proxie#0on 21 Jul 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Oh lord yes. I try to have gratuitous realism as far as violence is concerned. She would very likely end up getting shot. Haven’t planned that far ahead yet, but I believe she already has a broken hand…but I’m not too sure yet.

  68. Proxie#0on 21 Jul 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Hmm… let me try my hand at this for a moment…

    Soo. The book opens with a scene of Audrey deceptively/empathetically drawing information out of someone who has accused her brother of attacking (and kidnapping) them with the intent to murder him. The “vitim” does not know that she is his”assailants” sister. This effectively puts her brother on the fryer as the most likely perpetrator of a series of mysterious kidnapping/homicides in Port Angeles, WA.

    Now…

    “Audrey racked her mind, trying to think of an effective, yet delicate, way to pry the information from her brothers soon to be prosecutor.”

    “Audrey looked over her shoulder, attempting to ensure that no officers would see or overhear her questioning of the soon to be prosecution.”

    “Audrey, perhaps because she was deep in thought about the possible ramifications of her visit to the Port Angeles precinct, did not notice the young, downtrodden man sit down next to her.”

  69. Nayanon 21 Jul 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks, B. mac and Proxie#0. Actually I am writing the novel in my native language. I roughly translated the line to English. Spare me for any grammatical or spelling mistake.

    What about the revised versions of the line-

    “Jason knew that starting a war against a powerful terrorist organization would be a bad idea, but he never imagined that it would end with his father pointing a gun at his forehead, ready to shoot.”

    or

    “Jason knew that the idea of starting a war against a powerful terrorist organization would end with his death, but he never imagined that instead of the terrorists, it was his father, who started the war in the first place, was going to kill him.”

    Does the first line of the prologue count as the first line of the novel ? Many readers say that they do not read the prologoues.

    H

  70. B. McKenzieon 21 Jul 2013 at 11:39 pm

    “Does the first line of the prologue count as the first line of the novel? Many readers say that they do not read the prologues.” The publisher could skip past it entirely, but if they’re remotely interested in publishing the story, I’d assume that they would probably read it in the order you presented. If they didn’t have enough faith in an author’s writing ability to do something that basic, I assume that a rejection would be quick.

    That said, if you could turn the prologue into chapter 1, I think that would probably help you in case you come across a publishing assistant that hates prologues.



    “Jason knew that starting a war against a powerful terrorist organization would be a bad idea, but he never imagined that it would end with his father pointing a gun at his forehead, ready to shoot.”

    Possible rephrase: “Jason knew that starting a war against a terrorist organization might get him shot, but he never imagined it’d be his father holding the gun.”


    “Jason knew that starting a war against a powerful terrorist organization would be a bad idea…” Humorous aside: If the audience didn’t already know you were non-American, this would be a dead giveaway. 😀

  71. B. McKenzieon 21 Jul 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Proxie, I’d recommend an opening line which helps develop the characters and/or tell us critical information about the plot. In this case, perhaps showing that the main character is up to skullduggery (e.g. something about how she’s not being upfront about being the sister of the accused perpetrator). Perhaps something about her sizing up the accuser and identifying at least one interesting thing about him.

    “Audrey looked over her shoulder, attempting to ensure that no officers would see or overhear her questioning of the soon to be prosecution.” I like the concept here, but as a first line, I think it is hard to understand who Audrey is or what she’s trying to do. Perhaps something like “Audrey stared at the man who had falsely accused her brother of attempted murder [insert interesting/important detail she notices]. She looked over her shoulder — good. No officers were close enough to overhear her questioning the witness.” Potential obstacles: I don’t know where this scene is and am having trouble visualizing how there could be police in a room but not close enough to notice someone talking to a key witness. Must be a huge room…

    Alternately, I’d suggest taking a step back (at least briefly) to the events leading her to get involved with this case, like the main character’s brother begging her to figure out why 20 cops are digging through all of his stuff and/or getting a call from the police if they’ve chosen to involve her in some capacity.

  72. Nayanon 29 Jul 2013 at 6:44 am

    @B. Mac
    You gave a different version of my first line which is better. But I want to know if that line works as the first line. Is it interesting or boring ?

  73. B. McKenzieon 29 Jul 2013 at 7:45 pm

    “Jason knew that starting a war against a terrorist organization might get him shot, but he never imagined his father would be the one holding the gun.”” It’s okay, but I don’t know where you’d go from here. If the first half or third of the book is buildup to the father pulling the trigger, this may seriously undercut the drama/suspense of getting there. If the book starts with the father as the villain and never really looks back, then this opening line strikes me as more promising.

  74. Proxie#0on 29 Jul 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Alright, I have returned to attempt to shed some light on the current situation. I apologize for the late response though…my computer has been being…unsavory.

    Anyway, to the problem at hand!

    So the book starts a little after she returns to Port Angeles, the place where the greater part of her close family has lived is at. She is RETURNING because she had, until the origin of this book, estranged herself from her family. She had done so for several reason, but the main point is that she is returning, and wants to rekindle a relationship with her mother and her brother. She is aware that her father has been released, but believes him to still be in Seattle. She also knows that there has been a string of gruesome murders across that county, more specifically concentrated in Port Angeles.

    When she gets there, she finds out via local news that they had very recently caught the person alleged to be the killer (a day or two before she arrived at most). She sees it is her brother being accused, and takes note of the person who had “survived an encounter with death itself.” Before going to see her mother, she decides she will go to the police station to try to see Micheal, her brother.

    There, she notices a group of people she notices are reporters, and assumes (correctly) that they are there to get the “scoop” on the latest evidence and possible trial proceedings. She manages to get into the station, and takes a seat after going through the process of requesting visitation. As she does sit down, she correctly identifies the person who had accused her brother, apparently coming out of questioning.

    He, Cassius, goes to sit down on his own, and Audrey feigns getting a glass of water to speak to him. From there, I want the scene to begin, and then go on to her coercing some of the information out of him using her very slight empathetic abilities, and then end the scene with her”accidentally” tripping and cutting his arm/leg/body part with her fingernails (which she keeps long just in case she ever needs to “read” someones previous 24 hrs).

  75. Wolfgirlon 20 Jan 2014 at 3:19 pm

    How’s this for a first line “Nessie’s mood was foul and the language coming out of her mouth was even fouler.”

  76. B. McKenzieon 20 Jan 2014 at 5:50 pm

    “Nessie’s mood was foul and the language coming out of her mouth was even fouler.” I think you can probably show us that Nessie’s mood was foul (e.g. if she’s swearing up a storm, it’ll probably be pretty obvious), so I think you may be able to save some space by removing “Nessie’s mood was foul.” As for “The language coming out of Nessie’s mood was even fouler,” I think it’d help if we had a better idea of what was causing her really bad mood before we get to her reaction.

    For example, if I were hypothetically writing something about a medical instructor giving a med student a really hard time, I might do something like “Jackson, if you had made that incision on a live patient, you would have drowned them in their own blood. If you like making mistakes just because an arterial rupture puts you on edge, dig in or get the hell out. Hank, try the same procedure, and do exactly the opposite of Jack the Ripper.” I feel like these three sentences do an okay job introducing a few characters with a very high-stakes problem.

  77. Wolfgirlon 24 Jan 2014 at 11:26 am

    Ok, here it goes. I rewrote the first paragraph to my book “A Boy Named Death” because it was terrible and this what I came up with.

    “Grim Spiritman wasn’t the guy kind of you’d be afraid of. He was scrawny and short, even for the age of twelve. His raven hair was cut short and neat in mama’s-boy sort of fashion. Grim’s clothes; a pair of old blue jeans with the cuffs folded over, an oversized grey hoodie that almost looked like a dress, and a pair of black snow boots; made him even less intimidating. The only truly terrifying thing about young Grim was the eyes hidden behind his nerdy black glasses. He had jet black eyes that literally show your worst fear when look into them. Yet, if anyone looked at this kid they’d think he was a total wimp. However, they’d be wrong, mostly. For this boy was the mortal form of Death himself. That’s right; Grim Spiritman was actually the grim reaper.”

    Have any suggestions, comments, opinions?

  78. Wolfgirlon 24 Jan 2014 at 11:28 am

    PS. I know I made few grammatical mistake. I tried to fix them but I just realized I miss some. Sorry.

  79. Wolfgirlon 30 Jan 2014 at 10:01 am

    I think I finally have a good opening for a story.

    I stood at the corner of childhood and death.

  80. BMon 30 Jan 2014 at 10:31 pm

    “I stood at the corner of childhood and death.” I like it. I think it’s a much more interesting introduction to the character than, say, a description of his clothes or what he looks like. The phrasing is a bit melodramatic and/or coy, but by itself I don’t think it’s overwhelming or unpleasant. I’d forgive you the melodrama because I think the fundamentals here are strong… a character at a major impasse is inherently more interesting than what someone looks like. Additionally, it sounds like the new scene will also pace much more smoothly — a major impasse generally creates urgency.

  81. FireGodon 01 Feb 2014 at 6:07 am

    “You’d be surprised how hard a little girl can throw a punch.” The first line from the novel I’m writing. Any thoughts?

  82. B. McKenzieon 01 Feb 2014 at 11:59 am

    FireGod, if this is from the perspective of the little girl, I’d recommend taking another approach that shows more about the story and/or the character than that she can punch hard.

    If this is from the perspective of someone getting his ass kicked by a little girl, I think it’s more promising (because it introduces two characters and the conflict between them) and would suggest slightly rephrasing it to add flavor (e.g. “In a fair world, an eight year old girl would not be able to kick my ass”).

  83. Weisson 09 Feb 2014 at 1:21 pm

    How does this sound for the first line of a book?

    “The inhabitants of Rose City’s bustling streets weren’t always on the verge of brutally disemboweling each other, but when they were, it generally resulted from either an extremely beneficial sale at one of the most popular department stores in the vicinity, or a witch having been spotted in the area.”

    Any tips for reworking this line to improve its style? I think it’s a bit too verbose, as well.

    Thanks in advance! 🙂

  84. B. McKenzieon 09 Feb 2014 at 7:37 pm

    “The inhabitants of Rose City’s bustling streets weren’t always on the verge of brutally disemboweling each other, but when they were, it generally resulted from either an extremely beneficial sale at one of the most popular department stores in the vicinity, or a witch having been spotted in the area.” Suggested rephrase: “Rose City’s inhabitants weren’t always on the verge of brutally disemboweling others, but when they weren’t, it was generally because of a witch sighting or a clearance sale.” (I may have misunderstood the original sentence — are they MORE likely or LESS likely to want to disembowel each other during a sale?*)

    I love your opening, by the way — this hilariously gruesome detail does a really good foreshadowing the story and setting a stage that makes me feel very confident your main characters will be interesting.

    PS: The combination of brutal disembowelments, witch sightings and clearance sales is not having any of the “WTF?” reaction on me I would have expected. If I had asked 25 writers to start a story with a first line mentioning these three elements, I doubt even 3 would have been this coherent.

    *”Are they MORE likely or LESS likely to want to disembowel each other during a sale?” sounds like a really interesting term paper for a marketing MBA student. Or anyone studying Bahrain.

  85. Weisson 10 Feb 2014 at 5:11 am

    @ B. McKenzie

    I love the modification! Thank you so much; that sounds marginally easier to comprehend than my unholy amalgamation of verbs and adjectives.

    I’m glad I was on the right track with the opening line, though; definitely makes me feel confident about my writing, particularly after I took such a long break from writing. Speaking of which, that’s why I came back under a different name – the other one just reminded me too much of my juvenile days of trying to write the same characters in a different story. So! I took some courses, hopefully improved, and returned under a different name, pretending I hadn’t seen the site before to give myself the gift of neutrality.

    Thanks for the help on the first line! And yes, the citizens are MORE likely to maul each other at a clearance sale, hehe! 🙂

    – Weisd

  86. Mystical Journeyon 11 Feb 2014 at 1:03 am

    How does this line sound for the start of the novel?:

    “It’s not everyday that a giant RV crashes into a water fountain.”

  87. B. McKenzieon 11 Feb 2014 at 7:11 am

    Mystical Journey, I think it’d help to show us something more about what’s going on (e.g. an interesting detail about why we might care about this RV or the people in this RV or this fountain). Contrast “It’s not every day that a giant RV crashes into a water fountain” vs. “By the time the RV crashed into the water fountain, its ‘driver’ had led Officer Jones on a 15-mile high speed chase, which was probably some sort of record for a squirrel. This better count towards my arrest quota or I am going to shoot something.” I think this adds a bit of character development and humor we wouldn’t have gotten from just the RV crashing into the fountain.



    Also, I think “it’s not everyday” should be “it’s not every day” here. (“everyday” is interchangeable with “ordinary” or “routine,” and “every day” is interchangeable with “each day”).

  88. Mystical Journeyon 11 Feb 2014 at 11:07 am

    Oh, okay. How’s this?:

    “It’s not every day that a handmade RV with a giant family crashes into a water fountain in a town where there is almost a billion onlookers, bratty teenagers, clueless little kids and somebody looking to ruin the life of a certain member of that family.”

    Or…

    “It all started when that one RV came into the town square, spinning out of control until it hit the water fountain, and a little girl cried out, ‘It’s da Gwim Weaper! Wun for you lives!’ Even though the family inside it were just moving to this town…”

    Or…

    “That RV crash in the middle of a town is what started one crazy adventure…”

  89. Mynaon 11 Feb 2014 at 12:30 pm

    I think the third one is a bit cliche, like “here’s what started our adventure” kind of opening. The other two are run-ons, but I feel if you work with them you could create a really solid first line.

  90. Mystical Journeyon 11 Feb 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks so much, Myna!

  91. Mynaon 12 Feb 2014 at 3:24 pm

    No problem!

  92. B. McKenzieon 12 Feb 2014 at 11:39 pm

    –I feel version #1 and #3 are easy to understand/follow. I’m not as sure about #2. First, I’m not sure why the kid calls the RV the Grim Reaper — it’s possible this is foreshadowing the story is about a grim reaper but I think that could be clearer. For example, Becky reading “The Spell of the Illuminati” makes it pretty clear that there will be ancient conspiracies, magical assassins, and probably extraterrestrial dolphins staging a coup in Nebraska or something. Second, I’d recommend replacing “the RV came into” with something that suggests the RV is totally out of control and, ahem, hurtling into a fountain. Third, unless it’s super-important that they’re new to town, I don’t think it’s necessary to mention it really early. (They’re driving an RV, which I think does a pretty good job showing that they’re probably not local. Who drives an RV locally?)

    –I’d recommend working around “It’s not every day that” (which I think should be unnecessary if the crash is described in a way that makes it sound unusual), “it all started when…” (I’d recommend against using unspecified pronouns in the first sentence — “it” in this case, because the first sentence doesn’t specify what “it” is), and “what started one crazy adventure” (again, probably unnecessary — if you want to foreshadow a crazy adventure, you can probably show that more smoothly than by explicitly telling us… for example, I think the above example about the cop and the squirrel introduces that it’ll be a wacky crime story even though the narrator doesn’t explicitly say so).

    –I feel like these openings could maybe do more in the way of character development (e.g. a character acting in a distinctive way, preferably something which reinforces a key trait of the character). I’d recommend checking out Kirby’s example, “While the rest of her eighth grade class was searching their textbooks attempting to puzzle through graphing inequalities, Becky was lost in ‘The Spell of the Illuminati.'” I think this does a really good job showing what makes the character different (and interesting) and tying it into the plot. Also, this is one of the only opening lines I’ve ever seen that has made a character more interesting with a demographic trait.

  93. Wolfgirlon 18 Feb 2014 at 3:29 pm

    How’s this?

    Money, power, fame, it doesn’t matter since I’m dead.

  94. Weisson 17 Mar 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Well. This is unfortunate. I’ve managed to write myself into a corner with my previous draft, and the only way to fix it was to eliminate ninety percent of the content, which left me with a dull skeleton of a story. I tried to mix too much exposition with too long of a fight scene. So! I scrapped it and am writing the kind of story I actually want to write now; it mixes crime detectives with demons and is primarily character driven.

    How is this for a first line?

    All things considered, thought Solaris Bane as the point of a switchblade dug into her neck, interrupting and attacking a notoriously brutal gang of delinquents probably hadn’t been the smartest idea. But, then again, they probably shouldn’t have been disemboweling live cats to begin with.

  95. B. McKenzieon 17 Mar 2014 at 8:02 pm

    “This is unfortunate. I’ve managed to write myself into a corner with my previous draft, and the only way to fix it was to eliminate ninety percent of the content…” Uhh, Jesus, that’s one hell of a corner.



    “All things considered, thought Solaris Bane as the point of a switchblade dug into her neck, interrupting and attacking a notoriously brutal gang of delinquents probably hadn’t been the smartest idea. But, then again, they probably shouldn’t have been disemboweling live cats to begin with.” Suggested rephrasing for smoothness:

    “Solaris probably had better things to do than brawling with a whole gang. But even as a switchblade dug into her neck, she couldn’t think of any — they probably shouldn’t have been disemboweling live cats to begin with.”

  96. Weisson 17 Mar 2014 at 9:35 pm

    @B. McKenzie

    Pardon any typos; my phone’s screen is cracked, so I can’t see well at all.

    I’d certainly say so. I tried to have them fight too powerful an enemy too early on – it simply didn’t work. There was no way out, unfortunately, and so I scrapped it.

    Ah, I love the revision! It suits her personality quite well – impulsive, violent, somewhat poorly executed – so thank you very much! 🙂
    Does it seem interesting enough to start a story?
    Additionally, does it give you any sort of impression about the main character?

    ~Weiss

  97. B. McKenzieon 18 Mar 2014 at 5:31 am

    “Does it give you any sort of impression about the main character?” In the revised version, she can’t think of anything she’d rather be doing than brawling a whole gang and getting a switchblade to the neck. I think she comes across as extraordinarily tough and so recklessly bold she might get herself killed (which I think is more interesting than a more generic hero like Superman who cannot bite off more than he can chew).

    This is somewhat different than the original version, which did something interesting and immediately regretted it (“attacking a notoriously brutal gang of delinquents probably hadn’t been the smartest idea”). I think that minimizing the regret makes it sound like the character is more decisive and more likely to make similarly interesting decisions moving forward.

  98. Freyaon 31 Mar 2015 at 6:25 am

    Here goes; I’m writing a superhero story, but I’m having the prologue five years before chapter one (when the main character is eight) for a number of reasons, the main one being because of the complicated relationship with her half-sister which I want to explain sooner rather than later. Is this okay for a first line/paragraph?

    “It probably said a lot about Morgan Darking that she had, at eight years old, finished a one-thousand-piece puzzle all by herself in sixteen minutes and three seconds.
    If you got lost in translation, it meant that she was an incredibly tenacious child. She could stubbornly plough through almost anything. The key word in that sentence, however, was almost.”

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

  99. Tyleenia Tayloron 07 Mar 2016 at 9:38 pm

    B Mac – should I just start emailing ya? Also, I’m curious as to whether or not this is a good opening (it’s for the one with the winged boy whose an alien):
    “Hey guys – look. It’s the Winged Wonder!” I smiled as the boy pointed at me. Waving at him, I continued my flight. Little did he know that I, the flier, was actually Taniel Cai [insert last name], his best bro and schoolmate.

  100. Tyleenia Tayloron 07 Mar 2016 at 9:57 pm

    Then it goes on, talking about how his house is on a cliff then we meet his parents – a winged daddy, and wingless mommy, plus an adopted sis, who likes it when TC takes her on flights around the cliff (which happens to be next to the sea). When we first meet sis, she’s running out to the front room, jumping at TC. She immediately says, “Why didn’t you take me this time?” TC replies with, “Next time.” Then (her) “You always say that!” (him) ” The next time will be differient.
    The Star Maidens (the alien fems) don’t appear till halfway through chpt 1.

  101. B. McKenzieon 07 Mar 2016 at 9:58 pm

    “B Mac – should I just start emailing ya?” I can’t help you.

  102. Tyleenia Tayloron 07 Mar 2016 at 10:04 pm

    … Clarify, perhaps, BM.

  103. Tyleenia Tayloron 07 Mar 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Thing is, I’m not quite sure if this opening works well.

  104. Princess of Egocentriaon 08 Mar 2016 at 3:00 am

    Hey, what do you think of this opening lline??

    “It was a quiet sunday morning in the Meshtalian market square, although not quiet enough that anyone noticed the bank exploding.”

  105. Princess of Egocentriaon 08 Mar 2016 at 6:26 am

    Tyleenia- im not B Mac but heres my input on your opening line- it feels a little cliche. Kinda sounds like something out of an old superman comic lol “Look, up in the sky! Its a bird! Its a plane! Its… the Winged Wonder!”

    All I got from the opening line was that our hero can fly, has a secret identity, and his name. But thats a pretty generic description of a superhero. I might try to open with what makes your hero unique among similar heroes (does he have a unique personality? an unusual set of values? carry a gun? is he gay? there are lots of things that could make him stand out so id start with that)

    That said, if you’re deliberately going for a “classic superhero” vibe (espesially with a name like “the Winged Wonder”) then i like it. Although in that case i would say “friend” not “bro”

  106. Tyleenia Tayloron 08 Mar 2016 at 8:25 am

    Thanks. I’ll try to work on it.

  107. B. McKenzieon 08 Mar 2016 at 8:25 am

    ““It was a quiet sunday morning in the Meshtalian market square, although not quiet enough that anyone noticed the bank exploding.”” I like it. Minor issues: I think the introduction of the word “Meshtalian” feels forced here, and “market square” suggests a more classic/medieval setting than banks and (presumably) bombs. If setting is really important here, I’d recommend leading with something more distinctive to the setting. If it’s not, I think “Meshtalian” can safely be removed from the first line.

  108. B. McKenzieon 08 Mar 2016 at 8:27 am

    “… Clarify, perhaps, BM.” Respectfully, “I can’t help you” covers it pretty well, I think.

  109. Tyleenia Tayloron 08 Mar 2016 at 10:05 am

    I agree with you, BM, and I like it so far. Also, to tell ya the truth, I wasn’t sure if Brett (Taniel’s friend) should know hid friend’s the Winged Wonder or not. I think that’s the main problem with my prob with the opening line. If Brett is in the know, then, after Taniel’s morning flight, he’d (TC) would stop by his friend’s place. So . . .

  110. princess of egomaniaon 08 Mar 2016 at 10:31 am

    Thanks! Its a tech+magic world setting in a city, so i should choose a better term than market square. Meshtal is just the name of the city, although i think its kind of weird sounding so maybe ill change it.

  111. Tyleenia Tayloron 08 Mar 2016 at 12:07 pm

    I like it and I bet readers may too once they’re in the book. Maybe use that name later?

  112. Cat-vacuumer Supremeon 24 Sep 2016 at 5:30 am

    “Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.” From Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. I love that book.

  113. young grasshopperon 03 Oct 2016 at 10:11 am

    This isn’t the first line of my book (I’m planning on making a comic), but it is an introductory sentence for one of my main characters, and I would like to get some opinions and critiques on it: “When I was young, I remember reading about heroes who saved the world. The truth is: my world is already broken; I think I can fix it, but would I really be seen as a hero if I did? Would the people really understand me if they knew what I was trying to do?”

  114. Nixon 03 Oct 2016 at 2:08 pm

    On October 25th 1962 the Cuban missile crisis ended when World War Three began.

  115. B. McKenzieon 03 Oct 2016 at 4:52 pm

    “On October 25th 1962 the Cuban missile crisis ended when World War Three began.” First, is the date important? (If not, this could probably be shortened to “The Cuban Missile Crisis ended when World War Three began.”

    This covers the plot and does well there, but I’d recommend mixing in more authorial style, mood, and/or characterization.

  116. B. McKenzieon 03 Oct 2016 at 7:50 pm

    “When I was young, I remember reading about heroes who saved the world. The truth is: my world is already broken; I think I can fix it, but would I really be seen as a hero if I did? Would the people really understand me if they knew what I was trying to do?” Some thoughts:

    –It’s hard to tell without the context of seeing him interact with others, but I feel like this monologue is overly circumspect. Particularly if he’s just musing these lines to himself rather than, say, talking to somebody to accomplish some goal.

    –The threat, the conflict, the fix, and the methods are vague (presumably objectionable in some way). The clearest thing about him is that he’s preoccupied with his reputation and what other people think of him. I’d prefer someone more willing to be himself and/or with a more decisive personality and/or more style. (E.g. compare to TDK, where Batman falsely implicates himself in Two-Face’s crimes to help the city keep a heroic memory of Harvey Dent they can rally behind, and maybe also a badass favor for Harvey Dent falsely confessing to be Batman to bait out Joker. Neither character lets public opinion get in the way of doing daring and/or insane things, and one of them is an elected official!)

    –If you’re setting up an Ozymandias (a character that on the surface is a hero but actually working towards something terrible), I’d recommend setting it up more subtly — this telegraphs it too hard, I feel. E.g. Ozymandias is the voice of reason for most of Watchmen and the warning signs are introduced gradually (and hidden by other characters being more noticeably crazy, particularly Comedian and Rorschach).

  117. Anonymouson 04 Oct 2016 at 9:32 pm

    The cool refreshment from the late winters air was notably warmer than it had been for the past several months, but still cool enough that fear of the upcoming summer was the least of Jacob’s concern.

  118. B. McKenzieon 04 Oct 2016 at 10:20 pm

    “The cool refreshment from the late winters air was notably warmer than it had been for the past several months, but still cool enough that fear of the upcoming summer was the least of Jacob’s concern.”

    1. There’s a typo in “winters air” — it should be “winter air” or “winter’s air”.

    2. I think it could do more for plot and/or character development.

    3. I’m not a huge fan of opening with the weather (“It was a dark and stormy night…”), but in cases where it’s been effective, it usually sets a distinctive mood. For example, Bell Jar’s opening line (“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I don’t know what I was doing in New York”) develops the setting, mood, and protagonist, and foreshadows some major plot elements (e.g. shock therapy).

    4. I like the unusual implication that something about summer is frightening. In my opinion, that’s the most effective element here. One alternative would be focusing on this more prominently and inserting details that either show the character’s perspective and/or foreshadow critical plot elements. I’m not familiar with the story in question, so I’ll make up the details, e.g. something like “Crunching leaves and snowy footprints could get you killed, Jacob thought, but summer, summer was always the most terrifying.” (An apocalyptic stealth-or-die vibe with an overly vague threat and highly alert/paranoid protagonist).

  119. Anonymouson 04 Oct 2016 at 11:43 pm

    1.) Sorry about that, a night on duty hopped up on caffeine to keep yourself awake can make one terrible at correct spelling/grammar. Thanks for the heads up though.

    2.) Completely understand what you’re saying there. I was going to put something into it that would allude better to who Jacob is, but the sentence already felt like it was getting fairly long. And they’ll definitely get to know Jacob, to a certain degree, within the next few pages.

    3/4.) I normally wouldn’t consider starting with something as boring or commonplace as the weather, but I felt that in this instance it would make sense. Humanity barely survived the last summer-when the alien species attacked-and unless they take drastic action against them in the last few months of winter it’s unlikely they’ll be able to survive. This is all important because Jacob, who is preparing to give a retirement speech, was the chief of defense for Victoria (Canada/Alaska mostly) during the last winter. He’s being forced out, and is trying to let the people know that they have no choice but to take action. He actually speaks on the warmer air a short bit later on.

    Then the air gets warmer, and also the aliens attack in the middle of his retirement speech, and the whole “warmth and warm air” thing comes full circle. Also, the aliens are using a form of weaponized global warming…

  120. Nixon 07 Oct 2016 at 3:43 pm

    The date itself has no importance with regards how the story develops, as the story is set in the present (55 years on). But, it is the date where reality changes from our own. The question is how to place this “statement of fact” so as to allow the reader to know we are “through the looking glass”.
    One way of doing it would be to throw it in as a one line preamble and then carry on with the narrative as if it never happened.
    The other would be to make it part of a montage of current media information, like in someone channel hopping on their T.V. – with three or four quotes following to help set up the world for the world the story is set in.
    Lastly, the date gives the reader a chance to do their own research, if they feel inclined, to see for themselves how thing could have been so different.

  121. Nixon 07 Oct 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Damn. typo, thing should be things.

  122. young grasshopperon 08 Oct 2016 at 8:04 am

    @B.Mac, thank you for your advice. How about using the line later into the story and revising it to: “This world doesn’t need saving, it needs fixing. I don’t know about you, but I plan on doing what NEEDS to be done!” This line would be delivered at a huge turning point in the story where he is trying to initiate a more proactive, powerful organization of heroes. This character is a hero, but is also a bit troubled and misguided. His origin starts with him killing his abusive, drunk father in order to protect his younger siblings. He believes that if he gained control of the world, he could wipe out crime, pain, and war, but at the price of freedom.

  123. B. McKenzieon 08 Oct 2016 at 8:10 am

    “The date itself has no importance with regards how the story develops, as the story is set in the present (55 years on). But, it is the date where reality changes from our own.” If you’re going with the opening line about the Cuban Missile Crisis, I’d suggest making it clearer that it happened decades ago. As it’s currently phrased, it sounds to me like it’s setting the date in 1962.

    “Lastly, the date gives the reader a chance to do their own research, if they feel inclined, to see for themselves how thing could have been so different.” If somebody is putting down your book for any reason, that’s probably not a plus for the opening line. (Relatedly, if anybody needs to pull out a reference book in line 1, they’re probably not sticking around for page 2).

  124. B. McKenzieon 08 Oct 2016 at 8:43 am

    “This world doesn’t need saving, it needs fixing. I don’t know about you, but I plan on doing what NEEDS to be done!”” I love the first line. The second line is not very smooth and makes overly explicit what is heavily implied by the first line.

    Minor rephrasing: unless there are multiple worlds in this story, I’d suggest “The world” rather than “This world.”

  125. young grasshopperon 08 Oct 2016 at 9:00 am

    “The second line is not very smooth and makes overly explicit what is heavily implied by the first line,” I forgot to mention that this is supposed to be part of an argument between main characters, but I guess even then it could be a bit smoother. Thanks for the tip.

    “Minor rephrasing:…” completely didn’t notice that I said “this” lol. I guess I have to distance my MC’s voice from my own narration a bit. He’s not quite the kind of character to break the fourth wall or imply multiple realities.

  126. B. McKenzieon 08 Oct 2016 at 11:18 pm

    “He’s not quite the kind of character to imply multiple realities.” Unless multiple realities are a part of the story, nobody should be. 😀

  127. Alec Don 07 Dec 2016 at 2:17 pm

    My favorite first line comes from For I Could Lift My Finger and Black Out the Sun: “Walter Ivory was a son of a bitch.” It’s a good hook and I thought it was funny once I found out the narrator was a twelve year old kid.

  128. Nixon 07 Dec 2016 at 2:53 pm

    The subway commuters swirled through the station like a human shoal, wary of unseen predators. They stared at tightly folded newspapers or signal dead mobile phones, glancing up only to check their progress to or from the lower platforms where the trains thundered, screeched, and crunched. And she watched them with a protective eye as they flowed around her, never really seeing her – or if they did, they would only have noticed the uniform, the badge or the gun.

  129. (o_n')on 08 Dec 2016 at 2:39 am

    Nix: I think it would read a little more smooth if you split the sentence up a little differently. I do not like the sentence was starting with an and after ., it is clumsy because you have long sentences to start with and when you have an and in former sentence too.it is okay, I have the same problem too. And I would add a missing they.
    It is petitesses.
    …Only to check their progress to or from the lower platforms. Where the trains thundered, screeched and crunched, she watched them with protective eye as people flowed around her. They never really seeing her – Or if they did, they only have noticed the uniform, the bagde or the gun.

  130. Hrideyon 08 Dec 2016 at 5:38 am

    How’s this :
    “Some people say the one’s been always with us . There’s some evidence that he was behind Siberian destruction in 1908 and that he was involved in the second world war but I don’t buy it”

    Or is this better :
    “If you look into the old newspapers you’ll begin to find patterns , you’ll find that the One’s himself related to the infection .”

    Or:
    “My name’s James Rhea and I was born in the fourth official decade of the infection and just a decade earlier before it’s total elimination”

  131. Greyon 08 Dec 2016 at 11:51 am

    “Thirty years ago was the advent of the Empowered. Thirty days ago was the Crimson Dawn. Thirty seconds ago, I heard the cry for help.” How’s this?

  132. James Dakotaon 08 Dec 2016 at 1:53 pm

    If I ever wrote a prequel to my superheroes book, it would start something like this:

    “You can’t arrest me!” I shouted as the cold metal of handcuffs clamped around my warm wrists.
    “Are you saying you’re innocent?” the policeman asked, misunderstanding my statement.
    I scoffed. “No, I totally started the fire. I brought gasoline and matches and everything.”
    “Then you are under arrest for arson, young lady. You have the right to remain–”
    “I have the right to throw a fireball in yo face!” I shouted, ripping through the handcuffs. I wasn’t especially strong, but being able to raise my skin temperature to 100 degrees Celsius was a nifty trick. I’d also been incubating a ball of fire in my fist ever since the officer caught me. “Eat ash!”

    (This is told by Cassidy/Bonfire, who was Mercedes’s girlfriend before she became a villain. This scene is before she joins the circus)

  133. Clarana Sauceon 08 Dec 2016 at 2:27 pm

    (FYI it might come up later, me and James Dakota are combining stories to come up with a superhero universe of sorts)

    Okay, so, is it okay if I start my story in a very dramatic scene where a group of characters (including mains Lillian and Ariana Fulton) are running through a minefield to a chopper that will take them to safety while terrorists are shooting machine guns at them from watchtowers outside their compound? –Lily has already been shot in the shoulder (there was a strip of land between the edge/wall of the compound and the minefield, which is where she was shot), and makes it through first while Ari is the last in the mines. Lily, because she is worried about her sister, turns around and calls to her to run faster. Ari does, getting a little reckless, and steps on a mine. It doesn’t explode because her weight is still on it, but Lily freaks out anyway and starts to run back into the minefield when a fellow officer knocks her out with the but of her rifle and drags her into the helicopter, which takes off and leaves Ari there to be killed. I know it’s cold blooded, but they were trying to make minimum casualties and Ari was already standing on a landmine.

  134. Clarana Sauceon 08 Dec 2016 at 2:27 pm

    This takes place in the middle east, btw

  135. darkest mindon 08 Dec 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Alone.
    In the darkness.
    Her once orange hair was streaked with gore, turning it dark sanguine. Blood was splattered all over her front and her hazel/olive eyes were wild. She tilted her head back and let loose a long blood curdling scream, tears streaming down over her cheeks, crying.
    Insanity threatened her mind.
    Blood was everywhere–it coated the walls, painted the floor, drenched the screaming girl, and pooled out from the body on the floor. Her gold hair was dark and wet with her own blood. Her glassy red eyes saw no more.
    The madness broke through. She saw the world through shattered eyes.
    Nothing was left.
    She was the last one.
    But the darkness was not enveloping. Not yet. There was a small chink in the black cloak of night.
    And cast by that one small light:
    A shadow on the wall, and a flicker of gold and ice.
    The end was not yet certain. There was still a hope.

    (I’m just posting epic openings that I’ll never use.)

  136. darkest mindon 08 Dec 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Golden hair streamed in the wind.
    A laugh, a giggle of happiness.
    She smiled, rocking on the swing. She was happy. She was always happy, in her youth so long ago.
    But her father owed something.
    He didn’t keep a promise.
    And she was taken.

  137. Nixon 08 Dec 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Ref: (o_n’) 8 Dec. 2016.
    Thanks for the feedback.
    The paragraph was the result of brutal editing, as it was originally twice as long. The third sentence which starts with ‘And’ was the start of the second paragraph which would not have used the ‘and’. I wanted to see how it would work in context with the previous sentences as a dramatic end note and yes, it does look awkward.

  138. Jess Son 08 Dec 2016 at 6:38 pm

    (An attempt at starting to draft a story)

    “In the year 2020, everyone was blind to the world around them, except for the Great Hurricane. Those on the West and East Coasts that year told Chicago to be afraid, those in the Gulf States laughed, but the city itself simply gazed with a curious eye.
    Katherine put down a newspaper as a bottle crashed by her head…”

    (The hurricane itself isn’t the plot, but it does tie into the theme and drives the main character. Would it be acceptable to have it in the introduction?)
    (Also, any ideas on what the hurricane should be named? I’m drawing blanks.)

  139. B. McKenzieon 08 Dec 2016 at 10:50 pm

    If the hurricane isn’t important to the plot, I’d suggest either using it to develop characters or accomplish something that actually does advance the story moving forward, or maybe going in another direction for the opening paragraph.

    Also, there seems to be some inconsistency about what the storm is doing right now? It doesn’t sound like many people take it seriously yet, but if it’s 3 days from hitting Chicago, wouldn’t it be already pretty obvious that this is a freakishly dangerous hurricane? (Or, maybe, Chicagoans are vaguely aware that there’s been a really serious hurricane somewhere, but nobody was thinking that it would go that deep and, even if they did know they needed to evacuate, Chicago is much less prepared for this sort of thing than most coastal areas would be).

    “(Also, any ideas on what the hurricane should be named? I’m drawing blanks.)” I like Ellis or Dante. Alternately, if you’re going in a more sci-fi direction, something like Alpha or Delta (in the U.S., these only get used if it’s been a ghastly hurricane season and the pre-planned 21 names have already been used).

  140. Anonymouson 09 Dec 2016 at 12:58 am

    How’s this :
    “Some people say the one’s been always with us . There’s some evidence that he was behind Siberian destruction in 1908 and that he was involved in the second world war but I don’t buy it”

    Or is this better :
    “If you look into the old newspapers you’ll begin to find patterns , you’ll find that the One’s himself related to the infection .”

    Or:
    “My name’s James Rhea and I was born in the fourth official decade of the infection and just a decade earlier before it’s total elimination”

  141. (o_n')on 09 Dec 2016 at 2:32 am

    I would go for the Chicagoans are not well prepared for a hurricane. Maybe it had taken a completely different route than they have calculated. It happens. But a forewarning on 3 days before a hurricane is really big and precious amount of time. Usually you have 48h or even less.

  142. Greyon 09 Dec 2016 at 8:48 am

    “I’ve always hated to see myself in the mirror, and I never smiled.
    Now, I look into the mirror, violet eyes ringed with silver staring back, my face a metallic lavender, and I smiled.
    The fangs were an improvement.”

  143. Jess Son 13 Dec 2016 at 10:34 am

    @Grey,

    I like how there’s a character voice in the commentary!
    But the over description is a little off-putting IMO, especially by using the mirror as a cheap tactic (to make weak stories stronger /s), and might draw readers away. It also makes the fangs seem less remarkable than they are compared to a metallic face.

  144. Claranara Sauceon 13 Dec 2016 at 11:10 am

    Not trying to be annoying, but here’s my post again:

    Okay, so, is it okay if I start my story in a very dramatic scene where a group of characters (including mains Lillian and Ariana Fulton) are running through a minefield to a chopper that will take them to safety while terrorists are shooting machine guns at them from watchtowers outside their compound? –Lily has already been shot in the shoulder (there was a strip of land between the edge/wall of the compound and the minefield, which is where she was shot), and makes it through first while Ari is the last in the mines. Lily, because she is worried about her sister, turns around and calls to her to run faster. Ari does, getting a little reckless, and steps on a mine. It doesn’t explode because her weight is still on it, but Lily freaks out anyway and starts to run back into the minefield when a fellow officer knocks her out with the but of her rifle and drags her into the helicopter, which takes off and leaves Ari there to be killed. I know it’s cold blooded, but they were trying to make minimum casualties and Ari was already standing on a landmine.

    Probable changes: This is a dream/nightmare that Lily wakes up from 3 years after it occurred
    Lily will not be knocked out but definitely hit and dragged onto the chopper.

    Your thoughts?

    Ps, it’s in the middle east most likely Afghanistan or something.

  145. B. McKenzieon 13 Dec 2016 at 10:40 pm

    “But the over description is a little off-putting IMO, especially by using the mirror as a cheap tactic (to make weak stories stronger /s), and might draw readers away. It also makes the fangs seem less remarkable than they are compared to a metallic face.”

    I think these details shown with the mirror go further to establish characterization/voice than most characters studying their reflection to show readers what they look like. Also, the details (and what the character thinks about his/her appearance) are probably plot-significant. E.g. if the character has recently been turned into a vampire or werewolf or something, what he/she thinks about being a vampire now feels much more important than, say, an author leading off with a paragraph describing hair color or eye color. (Unless the character has fangs for some super minor reason, e.g. a Halloween costume, but anything supernatural here works).

  146. B. McKenzieon 13 Dec 2016 at 11:07 pm

    “Okay, so, is it okay if I start my story in a very dramatic scene where a group of characters (including mains Lillian and Ariana Fulton) are running through a minefield to a chopper that will take them to safety while terrorists are shooting machine guns at them from watchtowers outside their compound?” Off the top of my head, it feels like this would probably be more promising as a 2nd scene than as a 1st — I suspect that opening slower would probably give you a better opportunity to make the characters interesting before all hell breaks loose and you’re spending 50%+ of the words in the scene on them running for their lives. Also, I’d recommend trying to give your main characters opportunities to do distinctive and/or interesting things, especially early on — from the brief synopsis of the (action in the) scene, it’s not clear that the characters are actually getting opportunities in this scene. (The closest is a nameless officer butting her).

    I think most main characters in the genre would want to rush back into danger to rescue their sister. Have you considered giving her a more active role in not going back to save her sister (rather than getting passively taken down by a presumably minor character)? Or, maybe the character has a VERY limited opportunity to do something to help her sister, but she doesn’t think quickly/clearly enough in a crisis, and she doesn’t make the most of the opportunity. I think it’d be a more distinctive choice on her part, and one that would probably give you more regret/nightmare potential to work through later on.

  147. Claranara Sauceon 14 Dec 2016 at 5:30 am

    Thanks, B.Mac

  148. Ally Dakotaon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:20 am

    “Malevolent’s origins are unclear. Some say she was the daughter of Evil, which isn’t hard to believe if you’ve heard her reputation. She may have been a fairy turned bad, or a queen who learned sorcery.

    “Now that she’s dead, however, I doubt we’ll ever know.

    “At least she’s dead though. She made a terrible mom.”

  149. Ally Dakotaon 17 Dec 2016 at 6:27 pm

    [intro continued:]
    “That may sound extremely hateful and make me seem like a horrible person, being happy that someone is dead, but did I mention that Malevolent was evil? I mean, she’d kidnapped me from my birthmother just hours after I’d been born and locked me in a tower for my entire childhood to be used as a houseslave and telling me she was my mother and to be grateful for what I’d got because my father had left me and being a servant for the woman who’d brought me into the world was the proper way to show respect.

    “Surprisingly, I didn’t actually hate her. I didn’t mind cooking her breakfast or sweeping the floors as long as she left me to myself whenever she rested or left the castle. It wasn’t a bad life and I kind miss it. I used to wonder how Malevolent could give birth to a well tempered child like myself.

    “But that was before I’d found out I was descendeed from a unicorn (I’ll explain later).”

  150. Ally Dakotaon 18 Dec 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Any thoughts/comments?

  151. B. McKenzieon 18 Dec 2016 at 2:37 pm

    “Malevolent’s origins are unclear. Some say she was the daughter of Evil, which isn’t hard to believe if you’ve heard her reputation. She may have been a fairy turned bad, or a queen who learned sorcery. Now that she’s dead…” If I had 1,000 manuscripts to sift through this week, there are some major issues here that would keep me from proceeding.

    –4 sentences in, the only character that’s been developed is dead. That limits forward progress early on. I’d suggest making it clearer how Malevolent, even though dead, has some sort of impact on the main character or plot moving forward. E.g. a major problem created by her death, or something she said on her deathbed, or a major problem that’s since been revealed by her death, or a curse she cast with her dying breath, or some other distinctive final move.

    –Main character/narrator does not quickly establish voice or develop himself/herself much. I think “Surprisingly, I didn’t actually hate her” raises red flags about whether the character has an interesting personality. He/she sounds very milquetoast.

    –“a well tempered child like myself.” When a character says something like this, it usually translates to “I will actively resist doing and saying interesting things.” I’d suggest mixing in at least a bit of fire.

    –The stakes feel low. The main character had a problem (Malevolent), but 1) she’s dead and 2) the main character didn’t think of her as much of a problem anyway.

    –I’d generally suggest going more subtle on character names (“Malevolent” and “Evil” feel really on-the-nose).

    –“But that was before I’d found out I was descended from a unicorn (I’ll explain later).” I think this is an awkward way to introduce the lineage, and it doesn’t sound like the lineage will make the character more interesting. Compare to a situation like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, where a character’s unusual lineage (his family believes that he’s a half-brother born from an affair) creates major conflicts between likable characters. Does it matter whether the character is descended from unicorns or from humans? If this is a major plot point, I’d recommend showing/implying why (e.g. if it was because her father had an affair with a unicorn, maybe that really pissed her father’s wife, who was the driving force behind her being given up to Malevolent to raise).

  152. Ally Dakotaon 18 Dec 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for the feedback, I’ll post the revised version on here when I think its okay.

  153. Anonymouson 26 Dec 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Damien knew that dealing with the horrible , disgraceful, greed’s and cruel Senator Simmons would get him in trouble but he never for even once imagined that he would be asked to collect evidence against him in a case where there was practically no evidence

  154. Anonymouson 26 Dec 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Greedy*

  155. B. McKenzieon 26 Dec 2016 at 11:24 pm

    “Damien knew that dealing with the horrible , disgraceful, greed’s and cruel Senator Simmons would get him in trouble but he never for even once imagined that he would be asked to collect evidence against him in a case where there was practically no evidence.”

    I really like the premise setup, and the stakes are high from sentence 1. In terms of potential improvements, 1) the phrasing could be more stylistic and 2) it doesn’t develop Damian all that much / Damian doesn’t get that much of an opportunity to add much to the premise here.

    Suggested rephrase: “Senator Simmons was such a cruel son of a bitch that planting evidence against him should never have been necessary.”

    (I didn’t know enough about Damian besides that he’s an investigator of some sort, so I had trouble working him in. For the second sentence, one possibility that comes to mind would be Damian doing something related to the investigation, preferably something desperate and/or distinctive. Maybe exhausting the last dumpster on Simmons’ block or trying to hustle the last person on a huge list of potential witnesses and coming up with nothing but garbage).

    “Damien knew that dealing with the… cruel Senator Simmons would get him in trouble…” I wouldn’t suggest making him hesitate in sentence 1. In the interests of making him appear more active and likely to be interesting, I’d generally suggest placing a emphasis on forward action over anything else (particularly backtracking) early on. Also, this statement of concern is probably unnecessary– e.g. if you’re investigating someone cruel and powerful, it’ll be pretty obvious that the stakes are high if something goes wrong. I’d suggest either eliminating it or bringing in a detail to help develop the characters and/or plot (e.g. if this Senator is legendarily cruel, maybe making an early reference to something he’s reportedly done to somebody else that wronged him).

  156. Anonymouson 27 Dec 2016 at 6:40 am

    Thanks

  157. Anonymouson 27 Dec 2016 at 6:47 am

    My book ( title I haven’t thought) concerns 4 different stories which are linked and hence has 4 main characters : Damien , Monster , Alpha and Cross .
    Now Damien was assigned a task by Senator involving kidnapping and hacking . Since Senator was involved the evidence was completely destroyed . However after certain set of events Damien now has to find evidence against himself because the Senator’s holding his sis as a hostage .
    PS: Damien’s in India (where he did the job)and doesn’t know anyone .
    Appreciate all the help

  158. B. McKenzieon 27 Dec 2016 at 7:04 pm

    “kidnapping and hacking… Damien now has to find evidence against himself because the Senator’s holding his sister as a hostage. PS: Damien’s in India (where he did the job).” That sounds like most of my trips abroad — PS: Bihar is not quite the enclave of opulence and prestige the travel agent suggested, and the epic vistas are a bit disappointing unless you’re into open-air coal mining.

  159. Anonymouson 28 Dec 2016 at 4:33 am

    Actually I was not exactly thinking of Bihar but maybe soome other cool place like Karnatka or probabaly Delhi .

  160. B. McKenzieon 28 Dec 2016 at 8:03 am

    ALSO BOLLYWOOD IS NOT NAMED AFTER BIHAR, DON’T LISTEN TO THE TRAVEL AGENTS

  161. Anonymouson 01 Jan 2017 at 1:53 am

    Yeah , so ?

  162. Quinnon 27 Apr 2017 at 8:02 pm

    A few opening lines from my works in progress:

    “Quinn MacKegan always said my sister Ariana would follow in my footsteps. I knew she was right, I just didn’t admit it until Ari showed up at our special ops military base in Afghanistan.”

    “Life at my highschool was never exceptionally noteworthy.”

    “My mother is a kidnapper. Having said that, I’m beginning to wonder if she actually is my mother.”

  163. B. McKenzieon 28 Apr 2017 at 4:49 am

    “”“Quinn MacKegan always said my sister Ariana would follow in my footsteps. I knew she was right, I just didn’t admit it until Ari showed up at our special ops military base in Afghanistan.” I’d recommend experimenting with some alternatives where you introduce the sister later. It might be smoother to show what life was like for him before his sister showed up on base. (Alternately, if you do lead with the sister, it might be helpful to make her and/or her relationship with the main character more interesting).

    ““Life at my highschool was never exceptionally noteworthy.” I would strongly recommend reconsidering here. The character is heavily implying that his life isn’t interesting. (Secondarily, I think “high school” should be two words).

    ““My mother is a kidnapper. Having said that, I’m beginning to wonder if she actually is my mother.” I think this does a better job of quickly incorporating a family relationship than #1. The pace is very quick here, and if you ever feel like you’re derailing yourself moving too fast, it’d probably be viable to introduce the characters before explicitly introducing the kidnapping angle.

    Lastly, I’d suggest against having more than 1 work in progress (see 8 Reasons Authors Don’t Complete Their Manuscripts).

  164. Quinnon 28 Apr 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Just thought you should know, all the narrator are female.

    The reason the sister is introduced first is because the whole book is about her getting over her sister’s death in Afghanistan.

    The second one I really do need to work on, yeah.

    As for the third one, the kidnapping plays a very large role on the plot more so than their relationship.

  165. B. McKenzieon 29 Apr 2017 at 6:14 am

    “The reason the sister is introduced first is because the whole book is about her getting over her sister’s death in Afghanistan.” This introduction doesn’t feel like the smoothest way to introduce either character. Also, I’d suggest against mentioning (or at least naming) Quinn M. here unless he/she is a main character to avoid distracting readers from the two sisters.

    “My mother is a kidnapper. Having that said, I’m beginning to wonder if she actually is my mother.” Author’s note: “The kidnapping plays a very large role on the plot more so than their relationship.” One character suspects that he’s been kidnapped by someone pretending to be family. That feels like a much more interesting set of interactions between two characters (i.e. a relationship) than what has been introduced so far in #1.

  166. Skyon 02 May 2017 at 12:19 pm

    “My life as a human ended the day after Jessica disappeared.”

  167. Skyon 04 May 2017 at 7:24 am

    This has changed to a rather funny (in my opinion) deadpan joke in an opening conversation between Jesse and Sky when Jessica tells her she can see angels.

    “I can see angels.”
    I blinked. “Your kidding, right? Please be kidding.”
    Jessica rolled her shoulders, her weird blue eyes seeming to glow faintly. “I can see angels.”
    “You can see people with wings flying around in broad daylight?” I tried to keep the incredulous tone out of my voice but I don’t think I succeeded.
    “Yep.” She popped the ‘p’, slipping her hands into the pockets of her jeans.
    “Angels. Real angels. God’s-choir-type angels.”
    Jesse blinked at me. “They don’t sing.”

  168. James Dakotaon 11 May 2017 at 5:59 am

    This is for Camp NaNoWriMo, just an fyi.

    “Cass ignited her hands and sighed, hiding her face behind fingers wreathed in orange flame.”

    How is that for a start? The story is about Cassidy and her best friend Mercedes, both of whom have mutant powers. Cass can manipulate fire and Merc is superfast. Both live in the circus, but Cass eventually gets aggravated when the new circus owner dismisses her act as childish and silly and says he doesn’t need it. This gets Cass angry enough to make her hands spontaneously combust just as Merc arrives backstage to calm her down (he overheard her conversation with the owner). Cass exclaims she wants to leave the circus but Mercedes says she can’t (because (a) her family is there and (b) he’s there). This gets Cass even madder because she really hates being told what to do and she slaps Merc, which sorta throws him into one of the vanities and knocks him unconscious. Cass’s hand WAS on fire when she slapped him. She immediately regrets it and extinguishes the flames, rushing over to Merc who was lying face down. When she turns him over she sees to her horror that she had left a terrible-looking handprint of scar tissue where his eyes should be and realizes she’s permanently blinded him. This leads to Cass carrying Merc to her tent where she just waits for him to wake up and drowns in regret. Merc does eventually wake up, but when he does Cass is gone–she ran away because she was too ashamed to even look at him. The story closes with Cass sitting next to a campfire in the Arizona wilderness, her flaming hands covering her face just as in the opening line (the way the story is told it opens with Cass in the wilderness and the rest is her remembering).

    The main character is Cass and I want to be clear about her and Merc’s relationship. It’s platonic. Utterly and completely platonic.

    What do you think?

  169. James Dakotaon 11 May 2017 at 9:17 am

    Cass ignited her hands and sighed, hiding her face behind fingers wreathed in orange flame. How could she ever forgive herself for what she’d done to Mercedes? She’d damaged him, permanently, and his life was eternally changed for it.
    The crackle of her campfire drew Cassidy back to the bitter chill of Arizona’s wilderness and the murky darkness that lurked just beyond the red glow of the blaze. The murky darkness that was now Merc’s life.
    Slowly she drew her hands away from her face and extinguished their flame. Cass still blamed herself, but she knew that part of the fault lay on the new circus owner.

    “So you set some sticks on fire and throw them around, so what? I don’t need your act, girly.”
    Cass snorted indignantly. “ I don’t just throw around flaming sticks! I set my hands on fire too, you know, and not many people can do that without being burned.”
    The circus manager grunted. “Like I care. Look, kid, you’re wasting my time. There’s a performance in six minutes and you’re act ain’t in it. I’ll let you stay with us for eighteen months, and if you come up with another act I might consider reinstating you. But for now you can provide moral support, alright? Seeya.” He strode out of the makeup tent briskly, leaving a speechless Cass in the doorway.
    Eventually get anger overtook her and sputtering golden flames erupted out of her hands. She heard a skitter of desert gravel behind her and suddenly Merc was standing beside her, his emerald green irises scanning her face while concern was etched in his. “You okay?”
    Cass blew him off. “I’m just fine, thanks.”
    Mercedes crossed his arms​. “I overheard the manager. Is that why your hands are on fire?”
    The fire eater growled. “Maybe. If my act isn’t in the circus, what’s the point of staying?”
    “He did say if you made another–”
    “I’m leaving tonight.”
    Mercedes caught her shoulder. “Cass, you can’t leave–”
    “Don’t tell me what to do!” Cass shouted, slapping Mercedes hard enough to send him into a vanity. His head collided with the corner and he landed face down on the gravel.
    Cass gulped and looked at her hand, which she realized with sudden horror was still covered in fire. Quickly extinguishing her flame she turned Mercedes over and saw a gruesome handprint where his eyes should be.
    There was a crunch of footsteps on the Arizona shale.
    Cass fled. She fled far into the wilderness, didn’t stop running until she could no longer see the lights off the circus.
    Shame, horrible, horrible shame burned in her throat and stung her eyes but she couldn’t cry. Her body would not let her cry. All she wanted to do was throw herself on the rough and and weep but still her body ran on.
    Her common sense told her to build a fire and wait until the morning to do anything.
    Luckily there was​ an abundance of brushwood near where she decided to build camp, and Cass being Cass it was quickly alight.
    Her guilt had not availed, however.
    Cass ignited her hands and sighed, hiding her face behind fingers wreathed in orange flame. How could she ever forgive herself for what she’d done to Mercedes? She’d damaged him, permanently, and his life was eternally changed for it.
    The crackle of her campfire drew Cassidy back to the bitter chill of Arizona’s wilderness and the murky darkness that lurked just beyond the red glow of the blaze. The murky darkness that was now Merc’s life.
    Slowly she drew her hands away from her face and extinguished their flame. Cass still blamed herself, but she knew that part of the fault lay on the new circus owner.

    (I cut out Cass taking Merc to her rent because it just didn’t work.)

  170. ConnorCoveson 12 May 2017 at 5:05 am

    I stumbled onto the site and devoured pretty much everything. What do you think about these first lines?

    “When someone tells you that you can become God, the first thing you do is to ignore them with such condescension that they wish they were not on the receiving end. If they insist on feeding you such bullshit, the most you can do is to induce a strong feeling of indifference towards them, especially when you are heavily sedated. Benzodiazepines, haloperidol and lorazepam help a great deal.”

  171. Khaplison 12 May 2017 at 6:26 am

    Connor,

    What is the genre of the story? (I’m just curious.)

    “Benzodiazepines, haloperidol and lorazepam help a great deal.” Depending on the range of your audience, you may need to explain what these things are to them. Also, it doesn’t seem very clear on what you are saying to use them for.

    -Khaplis 😉

  172. B. McKenzieon 12 May 2017 at 7:31 am

    “When someone tells you that you can become God, the first thing you do is to ignore them with such condescension that they wish they were not on the receiving end. If they insist on feeding you such bullshit, the most you can do is to induce a strong feeling of indifference towards them, especially when you are heavily sedated. Benzodiazepines, haloperidol and lorazepam help a great deal.”

    Some ideas:
    –This looks promising. I think you’ve done a really strong job here implying the setting. The character never says “insane asylum” or “I hate being in an insane asylum” but that comes across clearly (e.g. the surrounding craziness, the involuntary sedation, the overall lack of autonomy, etc).

    –This is one of a VERY small handful of openings I’ve read with an inactive protagonist where I’d want to keep going (but in this case he’s presumably coerced into inactivity and will try interesting things to act out later). He comes across as a bit of a firestarter, just not within arm’s length of a match at the moment, which is 10x more promising than someone who freely chooses to be docile and doesn’t mind it.

    –“ignore them with such condescension that they wish they were not on the receiving end” could be smoother, I think. One possible alternative that comes to mind is “ignore them with such condescension that they hope that’s all they’re getting.”

    –“the most you can do is to induce a strong feeling of indifference towards them, especially when you are heavily sedated. Benzodiazepines, haloperidol and lorazepam help a great deal.” Does the character think these drugs are helpful? The first sentence strongly suggests no, but the second explicitly says yes. Is the ambiguity here intentional?

    –Khaplis, the author mentioned being sedated in the sentence before “benzodiazepines, haloperidol and lorazepam,” so I think it’s pretty clear that these 3 items are sedatives probably used in a psychiatric setting. (Also, the reader would probably have additional context on the psychiatric setting from the backcover blurb and maybe the title).

    –“benzodiazepines, haloperidol and lorazepam” seems far more advanced than I’d expect from a typical psychiatric patient. If the character comes from a medical or scientific background (or similar), the phrasing is a great touch. If not, I’d suggest removing 1-2 of the medications for simplicity.

    –“What is the genre of the story? (I’m just curious.)” Based on the opening lines, I’d guess it’s about surviving and/or escaping an insane asylum. If so, maybe a drama?

  173. Jinxon 12 May 2017 at 8:42 am

    “There are many perks to living for twenty-one centuries, and foremost among them is bearing witness to the rare birth of a genius.” Hounded by Kevin Hearne, book one in the Iron Druid Chronicles.

  174. Fae Lanson 13 May 2017 at 4:35 am

    My first line for my story, Scythe and Dagger.

    Death had always surrounded me. Like so many lost puppies, growing sick and frail under my care. So many fish turning belly up to greet me. So many flowers wilting in my very presence. My friends and teachers always chalked it up to a lack of responsibility, but the truth was this town reeked of death. Not in the sickly sweet stench of rot, but in the heaviness of the air, the dullness of the colours. The size of the cemeteries. I looked down at death’s latest victim: a bean sprout, glaring at me with a single wizened bud, as if it blamed me. Perhaps it was right. Perhaps I had killed it. Who knows.

  175. Fae Lanson 13 May 2017 at 4:52 am

    Well technically this is a firstparagraph but you get the point

  176. B. McKenzieon 13 May 2017 at 8:33 am

    “Death had always surrounded me. Like so many lost puppies, growing sick and frail under my care. So many fish turning belly up to greet me. So many flowers wilting in my very presence. My friends and teachers always chalked it up to a lack of responsibility, but the truth was this town reeked of death. Not in the sickly sweet stench of rot, but in the heaviness of the air, the dullness of the colours. The size of the cemeteries. I looked down at death’s latest victim: a bean sprout, glaring at me with a single wizened bud, as if it blamed me. Perhaps it was right. Perhaps I had killed it. Who knows.”

    My thinking is that the setting comes across more clearly than the character’s personality. It’s good enough to warrant reading further, but the character is sort of a question mark. I like the off-handed introduction of a conflict with “My friends and teachers always chalked it up to a lack of responsibility”.

    So, the main things (I think) I’ve learned about the main character are:
    1) He’s presumably involved in some supernatural work related to death. I thought this was handled effectively.
    2) His friends/teachers (and coworkers?) think he’s irresponsible, which he doesn’t have much of a reaction to.
    3) He seems resigned/uncertain about his work (“who knows”).
    4) Red flag: he comes across as low energy and passive. Probably not a huge problem for 1 paragraph, but if we’re 10+ paragraphs in and he’s still wondering if he’s responsible for the things happening around him, I’d probably start looking for submissions with a more decisive and/or active protagonist.
    5) Red flag: he doesn’t seem to have much of a strong reaction or strong opinions about anything happening around him. E.g. if his friends think he’s irresponsible, I think it’s an opportunity for a more energetic response than “the truth was this town reeked of death.”

  177. ConnorCoveson 13 May 2017 at 10:31 am

    Wow, thanks McKenzie! Your comments gave me a lot of inspiration. I feel like I am goin in the right direction. Thank you for the punchline for “… that they hope that’s all they’re getting.” I was really stuck there 🙂

    – Khaplis, the story is about a guy who goes through a mental breakdown and goes to the psychiatric ward. He starts hearing noises and seeing things from nowhere. These are obviously not premonitions but things happening at that time. Turns out, the mental breakdown enables him to take part in a pantheist universe’s doings and whatnot 🙂 The guy is a sufferer of grandiose delusions; he always thinks that he is meant for greater things. Thank you for your comments!

  178. Fae Lanson 13 May 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you, Mr. McKenzie, for the input. The main character is actually a girl which becomes more apparent later in the story. Also, I am a little worried about the two red flags. I’m around 4000 words into my rough draft, and admittedly Evangeline hasn’t done much. The story kinda happens around her. Now I know I need to fix that.

  179. B. McKenzieon 13 May 2017 at 7:10 pm

    “Your comments gave me a lot of inspiration. I feel like I am going in the right direction.” I do too. Confidence high here.

  180. B. McKenzieon 13 May 2017 at 7:35 pm

    “I am a little worried about the two red flags. I’m around 4000 words into my rough draft, and admittedly Evangeline hasn’t done much. The story kinda happens around her. Now I know I need to fix that.” First, I think the 4000 words is encouraging, and good job completing that so far. It’s pretty much impossible to start with the perfect opening, and virtually any opening you have before the draft is completed will be at a major handicap (e.g. the character and plot usually haven’t been fully developed at this point).

    “The story kinda happens around her.” I think you have some latitude for outside impetuses, especially early on (e.g. many detective stories have the character get notified of a major crime rather than proactively finding it). I’d recommend giving the character more room to react in a distinctive and/or active way to impetus, though.

  181. Fae Lanson 14 May 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Would you mind taking a look at the first 5 or so pages to tell me what you think?

  182. B. McKenzieon 14 May 2017 at 7:18 pm

    “Would you mind taking a look at the first 5 or so pages to tell me what you think?” I wouldn’t recommend getting beta reviewers involved until a draft is ready.

    1) Almost all stories at this stage of development will have gaping problems.
    2) Fixing the gaping problems will be much easier once you have a first draft completed.
    3) Looking backwards to fix gaping problems in chapters you’ve already written will probably reduce the likelihood of successfully completing a first draft.
    4) If you have the long-term wisdom and emotional fortitude to push ahead without being distracted by what you’ve already written, I have tremendous optimism and confidence in your prospects for completing a first draft.

  183. Quinnon 22 May 2017 at 2:58 pm

    I’m back! First few paragraphs of my ‘kidnapping’ story (aka Sleeping Handsome and the Twins in the Tower):

    My mother is a kidnapper.
    Having said that, I’m not sure she actually is my mother.
    Which would make it really awkward at family reunions, except I don’t go to family reunions because wonderful ol’ Mother Dear keeps me contained in a small castle surrounded by a barrier wall a heck of a lot higher than I can fly.
    Yes. I can fly. Are you jealous?
    I wasn’t born with wings – Malkin (that is, my evil crazy sorceress motherly person) enlarged a pair of dove wings and grafted them onto my back so I like to say I “acquired” them. Sometimes I feel really guilty about them though – what did that poor, innocent dove do to get it’s wings clipped off by Mother Malkin? I can’t even compare it to a human having their arms cut off because it’s just not the same. Birds need their wings to survive and find food and mate and build nests and migrate and fly and I am getting way off topic here… Moving on.
    Mother Malkin raised me since I was a “wee babe” (I prefer the word “infant,” much less derogatory towards size) and has kept me in her castle for the entirety of my admittedly rather short life.
    I’m sixteen and I can’t drive a car because I’m from the freaking Middle Ages. It’s the time of castles and knights and chivalry and the plague and the crusades and all that fun stuff!
    WHOOP-DI. FRIGGIN’. DO.
    I want a convertible.
    Part of the reason I know about the 21st century and all it’s touchscreen amazingness is because Malkin is a time traveller via magic. Now don’t get me wrong – she was born in medieval times – but she extended her life and lived through practically all of history up to the 21st century when she figured out a time travelling spell to take her back to the middle ages where she could do all her potion brewing and turning people into toads and weird witchy stuff like that. I only know about this stuff because I’m a sneaky little badword and I read her diary!

  184. B. McKenzieon 22 May 2017 at 10:24 pm

    “My mother is a kidnapper.
    Having said that, I’m not sure she actually is my mother.
    Which would make it really awkward at family reunions, except I don’t go to family reunions because wonderful ol’ Mother Dear keeps me contained in a small castle surrounded by a barrier wall a heck of a lot higher than I can fly.
    Yes. I can fly. Are you jealous?…”

    Some ideas:
    –“I only know about this stuff because I’m a sneaky little badword and I read her diary!” I’d suggest moving this from backstory to an in-scene development in the first few chapters. E.g. she tries to look for an escape attempt and finds nothing promising. Frustrated, she tries sneaking into her mother’s quarters to see if there’s anything there that might help her. She finds the diary and we get the time-travel news at the same time she does.
    –The details about the prison/castle and the wings and the time travel might be easier to work in more gradually.
    –The main character sounds slightly resentful towards the mother. I think showing something like fear or anger might help increase urgency.
    –I’d suggest going more active on this than just having the main character give paragraphs of exposition about what’s happening. E.g. I’d recommend checking out the worldbuilding in the first few pages of Hunger Games, particularly 1) how the main character builds up the setting by describing people and things around her, like the miners with sunken faces shuffling off to a public ~execution and the massive security fence which they only have electricity for a few hours a day and 2) the language used in hunting reinforces that most everybody is teetering on starvation, and 3) Gale/Catniss discussing whether they could survive an escape attempt by foraging in the woods.
    –The character’s personality seems inconsistent to me (e.g. “I’m not sure she actually is my mother” seems much more passive than “I can fly. Are you jealous?”).
    –I think making her sound a bit less modern (e.g. avoiding phrases like “touchscreen amazingness”) would help increase the contrast between her and her mother? (Alternately, maybe the main character herself is also from the modern era?)

  185. Kazinskyon 24 May 2017 at 9:26 pm

    Five figures stood atop a rooftop, waiting for a man clad in orange to appear, and I did as expected right before their eyes. A ringing sound lured me there, I had shut it out with my power before, and it stopped bothering me whenever I left this world but I had to know why.

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