Thursday, March 3, 2011

The First 13 Lines


One of the best classes I attended at LTUE was “Lucky 13” presented by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury (who…may I say, totally knows her stuff—she moderates the Hatrack River Writers Workshop and Orson Scott Card’s website—click here or here and even here).

She had five (very brave) writer’s share the first 13 lines of their work with the class. We then tore it apart. Just kidding! (Did I freak you out a little?) 

But we did analyze the lines.

Just the first 13…because that is all the chance you may have with an agent.

She asked:

Do you understand what is going on (what the story is about? What the character’s problem is?)

Do you care (I mean, really…who wants to read a story when we don’t care about the mc)?

Do you want to keep reading?

As we continued to listen to the five brave souls, I noticed that a great first line hook is every important to a book. Check out a few well written books from the library and just read the first line. (I just finished both Speak & Fahrenheit 451. Great first lines.) What do they promise the reader?

Plus, please no flashbacks or info dumps. That is guaranteed to turn off your reader. (I have a book on my shelf completely devoted to a fantastic info dump in its first chapter. I couldn’t tell you about the rest of the book, because I stopped reading. The info dump was that good.)

Also, please just get to the meat of the story. We need to know why you started where you did. What is different in your character’s life at this moment?  We don’t care about the sunny picnic, we want the picnic ruined with rain and the swarm of ants.

I’m sure there was more to the class, but these were the things that stood out to me. Do you have any other suggestion? 

What do you look for in  the first 13 lines?


Shari said...

I am now going to have to examine the first 13 lines of my ms's! Thanks for the great post.

Linda Garner said...

This is such great advice. The first 13 lines....who knew?

Carla said...

I love the example of the ruined picnic! This is great advice...thanks!

Jolene Perry said...

Voice and sense of atmosphere.
If you've ever gone to a site that had a list of first paragraphs (Bransford did a competition not long ago) I flipped down through the paragraphs and most I didn't read past sentence 3, I knew already they weren't for me.