First Lines

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Grabbing your readers attention in a world where they are bombarded 24/7 is one of the most important lessons a writer must learn. That first sentence can make the difference between success and mediocrity. The gatekeepers in the publishing industry have told us repeatedly, “the first page will make you or break you when you try to sell your book.”

The key to setting your writing apart from the competition is to do something new when you start with the action in your story. Obviously stay away from the old clichés. When I teach a writing class, we discuss great opening lines from literature. My favorite examples of what not to use include weather, the protagonist’s reflection in a mirror, and the character’s startled awakening from a deep sleep. How many stories have started with “it was a dark and stormy night?” If you’re like me and a Peanuts cartoon fan, then you get an image of Snoopy sitting on his doghouse with his typewriter when you read any facsimile of the line. However, that isn’t where the phrase actually originated. The infamous phrase comes from the beginning of Paul Clifford, an 1830’s novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

One of my favorite first lines is from James Clavell’s, Shogun, “The gale tore at him and he felt its bite deep within and he knew that if they did not make landfall in three days they would all be dead.” The reader has to find out what happens. Start with the action and pull your reader in. Make them empathize with your main character quickly. Hook your reader in the beginning and then keep them turning pages.

Writing A Book Review

When you purchase a book from Amazon or Barnes & Nobel online have you ever noticed that there is a place for you to write a short review? Goodreads.com also provides a place for reviews. Most readers don’t leave one because it intimidates them. People think that there are certain requirements you must have to be a book reviewer. Not true anymore. In most cases, even if you didn’t purchase the book online, you can still go on the website, log on, and enter a review.

Amazon has changed some of the rules and you need to be careful about saying things like “buy this book” or “if you liked James Patterson, then you’ll love this.” However, there are still many things that can be put in your comments that don’t cross the lines and you can really help your fellow or favorite authors by leaving a review.

Let me help you out with some suggestions:

  • The theme represents …
  • I enjoyed the story because …
  • The relationships between characters demonstrated …
  • It is well written …
  • My favorite character …
  • The story is well researched …
  • Read some of the reviews posted for examples and write one in your own words.
  • A review does not have to be only positive statements but can include points that you feel are negative. Just be sure that you stick to the subject and the writing, do not get personal about the author.
  • If the writing is not professional, then it is alright to say that.
  • If the research in a historical novel is obviously well done, then mention it.
  • It can be a great story that isn’t told very well.
  • Tell whether you like the book or not.
  • Would you recommend it to others?
  • Don’t just give the book five stars because you liked the story. Not every good story deserves five stars.
  • Be honest.
  • If you read a book and don’t feel like you can give the book three stars or more and are not comfortable doing a review, then tell the author that you’d rather not do a review. Be tactful, but don’t lie. You’re not doing us a favor when you give us a review we don’t deserve and the reader feels cheated and won’t read our next book. Personally, I’d rather you tell me it needs more work and isn’t as professional as it could be. Believe me, it wouldn’t be the first time I heard a rejection that said I needed to work on my book to prepare it better for public consumption. Hopefully, my book is still in a place where I can pull it and make corrections before the general public sees it.

I hope this helps take some of the anxiety out of writing a review.