Fabulous News the First

Remember last week when I said I had four fabulous secret bits of news? Well, I can tell you one of them now:

I just signed a contract with BenBella Books to write for another of their anthologies! Yay! This one is about Scott Westerfeld’s amazing UGLIES series. It’s no secret on this blog how much I love those books, so I’m so keen on writing this essay.

I actually discussed the essay topic with Scott, and he finds it pretty amusing, so here goes nothing! (See, I never spoke to Judy Blume, Philip Pullman, or the ghost of C.S. Lewis about those essays, so I have no idea what to think.) Very nervous-making that the author is actually a) around and b) able to give feedback on the antho.

Speaking of Westerfeld, he had a great blog up the other day about the importance of a good first line. Must be something in the air, as agent Nephele Tempest is doing a whole series on the Knight Agency blog on the same topic. Says Tempest:

What are your favorite books, and how do they start? Try reading the first sentences of some of your most frequent re-reads, and determine how that first sentence relates to the whole. What do you like about the book, and do you feel the same way about that opening line? How do you think the writer came up with that particular line? Why did they make the choices that they did?

According to Westerfeld, he’s planning a post to explain why he decided to start his futuristic dystopian hoverboard chase-filled adventure novel with a rumination on the color of cat vomit.

I feel both lucky and unlucky, because with all the SSG novels, I get several chances to make a “first line” impression. I also have the challenge of hooking you several times over. This is because sometimes readers (or excerpts) start with the first confession, sometimes with the first line of the prologue, and sometimes with the first line of the first chapter.

Thus, in SECRET SOCIETY GIRL I have:

  • I hereby confess: I am a member of one of the most infamous secret societies in the world.
  • You’ve heard the legends, I’m sure.
  • It all began on a day in late April of my junior year.

In UNDER THE ROSE, I have:

  • I hereby confess: I didn’t know what it meant to be a Digger.
  • When you picture the secret society of Rose & Grave, I know what you see.
  • It was shopping period at Eli University, and lest you think this is one of those books about fashion, let me enlighten you.

And in RITES OF SPRING (BREAK), I have:

  • I hereby confess: Even the secret and the powerful need vacations.
  • Not all tropical islands keep their treasured buried, but for those that do, no map will help.
  • Some people pledge to lose weight for their new year’s resolution.

With the exception of that last one, I think they all have heavy thematic elements. The first sentence of the first chapter of Rites of Spring (Break), in contrast, sets up a long joke. If you consider that each of the first chapters have confessions as well, there are even more “first” lines. I sometimes wonder if most readers bother reading the confessions (or the chapter titles, for that matter). Sometimes, they are the punch line of the joke, at other times, spoilers for the chapter. I like giving chapters titles, rather than just numbers, and have done it in every one of my contracted books.

More on that tomorrow. Meanwhile, how do you feel about first lines? What is your favorite first line in all of literature? If you’re a writer,w hat’s your favorite first line that you’ve written?

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14 Responses to Fabulous News the First

  1. distracted says:

    It’s hard to beat, in my opinion, Jane Austen’s first line in pride and prejudice. It really sets up the book, and is snarky at the same time.

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

  2. My favorite first line that I’ve written is this one: “My name is Gin, and I kill people.”

    It’s the opening of my urban fantasy Assassin book.

    Also, I just started reading the BenBella “Veronica Mars” essay book I won on the blog here last year. It is sooo good! A must-read for any VM fan. I really need to order the DVDs from Amazon …

  3. Amy W. says:

    I’m reading the Narnia books for the first time and have found that this opening line “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” sums up my feelings of the series so far almost perfectly. It’s so hard to be completely enamoured with a set of characters, and to know that you have to say goodbye to them – so Lewis has set the stage well in that I’m almost allowed to hate Eustace as I grieve for Peter and Susan.

    First lines aren’t as important to me as first chapters. I used to have time to finish every book I picked up (as a personality trait, I’d do it no matter what – until one title broke me of that forever) but now as an adult I don’t have that time. Unless it’s going to suck me in quickly, I don’t have the luxury of 400 pages just to get to the nitty-gritty. I want the first chapter to snatch me into the world and make me want to stay there – to lose track of time and not want to put it down.

  4. Bill Clark says:

    Great post, Diana! And congratulations on the new essay contract!

    First lines are powerful mantras. From “In the beginning, God…” (especially as read from space by the Apollo astronaunts back in less slavishly PC days) through “Now is the winter of our discontent…” and “If music be the food of love, play on” to “Call me Ishmael” and “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrub, and he almost deserved it,” good first lines have always charmed me by their magic ability to pull me into a book.

    But for me, picking a favorite first line is like picking a favorite book, which I, for one, can’t do. That’s why I have the same bookshelf problem you do: I love them all, and can’t bear to part with any of them. Here’s hoping that someday the bookshelves will magically expand to hold all our books!

  5. Phyllis Towzey says:

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.”

  6. Carrie says:

    I love the confessions and chapter titles! I think they’re like little extra treats 🙂 I originally had section titles for my book but they got taken out for fear of being spoiler (which I didn’t think they were but then again, I knew what happened in the book).

    I’m really happy with my first line: “My mother used to tell me about the ocean.”

    You know me, I’m weird about first lines. Can’t go anywhere until I find the right one!

  7. Andee says:

    First line: “Who’s there?” from Hamlet, because it sets the scene for everything in the play: suspence, distrust, and doing what you are meant to do.

  8. Patrick says:

    I’m not much of a first line person.

    The first line of my WIP is-

    I could tell you the ending, but I won’t.

  9. Liza says:

    How very exciting! I’ve only read the first in the Uglies series, but it was really wonderful! Some of my favorite first lines have already been listed.

  10. Patrick says:

    My anti-spam is claymore*. I need to read Rampant!!!!

    *I’m assuming this is from Rampant.

  11. Diana says:

    It is indeed from Rampant, Patrick. Amy doesn’t know a claymore from a caltrop. Astrid… well, occupational hazard.

    ___________

    These are some of my fave line. I do love the Dawn Treader one. I’d forgotten about that!

    ___________

    distracted, I love that line too. However, someone I know doesn’t agree with us that it’s snarky and in fact decided that he did not like the book on the grounds that he took that line at face value — that it was all about women looking for husbands, blah blah blah…

  12. Trish says:

    I don’t think I have a favorite first line from someone else’s book, but my favorite of what I’ve written is the first line of a YA WIP tentatively titled LITTLE:

    As a rule, guys don’t just fall at my feet.

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  14. Katie says:

    There’s always “It was a dark and stormy night.”

    I read (and love!) all the confessions, but sometimes my eyes skip over the chapter title and I don’t catch it until the second reading.