Friday, May 18, 2012

Beginning with a Bang by Jannine Gallant

We're celebrating Creative Beginnings this month, so I thought I'd talk about the beginnings of books. How many of you agonize over the opening scene in your book and rewrite it countless times? It’s the hook that catches the reader’s attention, so it has to be perfect. At least that’s the way I look at it as I revise the first page of my WIP for the 120th time, changing one word here and one word there… You get the picture, and those of you who write can probably relate. The opening scene does more than you think. It doesn’t just introduce your characters and setting. It sets the tone for the book. It shows off your style.

The first scene in Nothing But Trouble came to me in a flash of inspiration. I could see the setting, a dusty highway in Texas in front of a honky tonk bar. My heroine is stranded by the roadside. She takes one look at the cowboy offering her a ride and knows he’s nothing but trouble. But creating a picture isn’t enough to engage potential readers. As an author, it’s your job to show them what kind of book you’ve written. Is the stranded woman frightened, sad, or spitting mad? Do you get a feeling of danger or one of humor from the situation? By the end of that first page, the reader should have a good sense of your voice.

Now, take everything you want to convey in your opening scene, and condense it into one sentence. The oh so important first line of your book. A daunting task to be certain. I’ll admit I’ve written some less than stellar first lines. But I’ve read some true beauties, both in classic books and new favorites.

From Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

From Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts: The air was raw with February the morning Bobby Lee Fuller found the first body.

From Try Just Once More by Kat Henry Doran: Maggie McGuire didn’t have time to die.

It took me several tries, but I finally wrote a first line for Nothing But Trouble that satisfied me. Chase Paladin slammed on the brakes and prayed.

It may not be the best first line ever written, but I hope it will hook readers and make them ask, “Then what happened?” So, let’s hear your favorite first lines, one’s you’ve read or written.

Opening scene from Nothing But Trouble:

            Chase Paladin slammed on the brakes and prayed. Momentum, and the heavy livestock trailer he was towing, sent his pickup careening toward the red sports car idling in the middle of Route 66. With tires smoking, he rocked to a stop inches from its rear bumper. He peeled his fingers from the steering wheel and spared a glance for Bo, who had slid off the seat onto the floor of the truck. The hound shook himself.
            “What kind of freaking idiot stops in the middle of the road!” he shouted. Pushing his hat to the back of his head with a shaking hand, he leaned out the open window. “Hey, buddy—” The passenger door of the Porsche swung open, and the complaint lodged in his throat.
Long, long tanned legs topped by a pair of frayed denim shorts shot out. He dragged his gaze upward as the woman stood. A green ribbed tank top hugged a slim waist, and thick brown braids dangled over each shoulder. Fists clenched on her hips, she yelled something Chase couldn’t quite hear at the driver.
A pink flowered duffle bag flew through the open door and landed at her feet. She kicked the door shut and flipped the driver the bird. With squealing tires, the car tore off down the highway.
            Bending, the woman grabbed the handle of the duffle. Faded denim cupped a world class ass. Chase let out a low whistle as his pulse picked up speed. She glanced in his direction before dragging the bag toward the side of the road. He edged his pickup forward a couple of yards and lowered the passenger window.
            “Need a ride?”
            Her eyes were hidden by oversized sunglasses with leopard spotted frames. They perched atop a short, straight nose covered with a sprinkling of freckles. Color tinged high cheekbones, and a pink mouth with a full bottom lip drew into a tight line. She bared an even row of white teeth.
            “Not a chance.”
            “You sure? Mornings, there isn’t much traffic along this stretch of highway.”
            Her fist clenched around the canvas handle of the bag. “I’m not in a hurry.”
            “Look, I’m harmless, I swear.”
            She eyed him for a long minute. A warm Texas breeze ruffled tendrils of loose hair, blowing it around her face. She pushed a strand off her cheek. “You look anything but harmless. If I had to guess, I’d say trouble is your middle name.”

Barnes & Noble


Jerri Hines said...

Can't wait to read Nothing But Trouble. Great series, too!

Calisa Rhose said...
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Nancy Jardine said...

Not just a good first sentence, Jannine!Harmless is he?

Calisa Rhose said...

Love the excerpt, Jannine! I already bough the first two books... so hopefully I can explore this scene a little deeper soon! :)

As for first lines, I'm not great at them, one of those who rewrites it 120 times. lol But this one from my paranormal shifter series came without my prompting and I love it:

<‘WOLF MO…T…V...CAN…IES’. Dim, flickering lights of another motel with half the sign letters darkened winked at Shyen Mills.>

Then it progresses with this next part...

Calisa Rhose said...
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Calisa Rhose said...

Well, that still didn't work. :/ Sorry.

Karyn Good said...

First lines are tricky and striving to write the perfect one makes me break out in a cold sweat. You've come up with a first line that carries a lot of impact!

Jannine Gallant said...

Jerri, thanks for stopping by. It is a great series!

Nancy, Harmless - not exactly! LOL

Jannine Gallant said...

Calisa, I like the sign idea! Had to look at it a couple of times. Always a good thing to make a reader sit up and pay attention!

Thanks, Karyn. I was really pleased with this first line. Usually they're long and rambling - not ideal for a first impression.

Katherine said...

Hi Jannine, I had to smile when I read about you revising your first page for the 120th time. I know you were exaggerating but I had a critique partner years ago that spent 9 months revising her first chapter. Not necessarily a bad thing, but she wouldn't write anything else about her story until the first chapter was "just right." I ended up moving and we lost touch. Part of me wonders if she's still revising that first chapter or if she was finally able to move on.

Tanya Hanson said...

"Call me Ishmael." short ,concise, classic.

Jannine Gallant said...

Katherine, 9 months - okay, I'm not that bad! I move on with revisits periodically to tweek that fist line and first scene. If I waited for perfection, I wouldn't get anything finished!

Hi Tanya, The classics do have some beautiful first lines. Gotta love short and sweet!