Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger: Maggie Toussaint!

By Maggie Toussaint

Ever notice how some books grab you from that opening line and you feel like you can’t read fast enough to take it all in? Great opening lines capture our attention. They promise to deliver great stories.

Crafting an intriguing opener is no accident. Chris Roerden, award-winning author of Don’t Murder Your Mystery, cites these characteristics of a great opener: arouses your curiosity; establishes the main character; begins at the point of change or in the middle of an action; uses tone to create a mood instead of adjectives and adverbs; stirs emotions so that a reader identifies with the central character; sets a tone consistent with the main character’s attitude; avoids clichés or trite phrases; and/or suggests a contradiction of some kind.

When Chris recently updated her book for The Writer’s Digest (Don’t Sabotage Your Submission), she included the opening line from my romantic suspense, No Second Chance, as a great opener. Wowser! What a thrill to be included in her how-to-write book!

Honestly, I can’t credit any text or set of rules as my guiding light on my openers. I go with my gut feeling. A great first line hooks me into the story. I keep working on my first lines until I have something that pleases me.

Writers at every stage in their careers strive for a great first line. Since I’m a great believer in learning by example, here are ten opening lines that make me want to keep reading:

What a perfect night for a kidnapping. —Karen Duvall, Desert Guardian

“You want me to do what?” —Donna Michaels, Meet Your Mate

Winter can be murder in Minnesota. —JL Wilson, Brownies, Bodies, and Breaking the Code

It was no way to spend a birthday, drinking alone in some hole-in-the-wall dive, but it beat sitting home alone, staring at the rented contents of his apartment. —Liana Laverentz, Thin Ice

Touching her had been a mistake. —Tara Nina, Blue Moon Rising

Abbie shoved her carryon bag under the seat in front of her as far as it would go. — Bess McBride, A Sigh of Love

Another day bites the dust. —Cindy K. Green, A Night of Novel Tea

“I’m sure you understand that given the circumstances we can’t be married.” —Carol Ann Erhardt, Foxfire

The loud rapping on the car window startled Paige awake. —Judith Rochelle, Love With a Proper Rancher

“Just don’t do the orgasm thing.” —Jane Richardson, A Different Kind of Honesty

My challenge to you today is to post at least one first line that intrigues you. Here’s the catch. You can’t cite your own work, and you must have read the book in the last year.

I can’t wait to see what you will post!

Maggie Toussaint
Author of romance and mystery

Watch the trailer for "No Second Chance" here.


Briana said...

What a great blog. Thanks for the info and congrats on having been mentioned in Chris Roerden's book. The most intriguing opening line isn't actually a line, it is a paragraph.
"Memo:to all harpies
Subject:dress code
The Depraved Fashionistas Department must approve all harpy clothes. Choose a wardrobe that complements a your grotesque harpy image and wear it with pride. Refer to the Harpy handbook, section four, page sixteen, if you are unsure whether your clothing meets company standards. Punishment for noncompliance will include one year wearing a zombie's castoffs. You will then realize that, yes, it can get worse.
Remember, you are the public face of Tartarus.
Hades the Benevolent."
Not a sentence, but it hooked me none the less. The thought of Hades drafting a memo was just to good to pass up.

Briana said...

oops, forgot to say that the paragraph was from One Bite Stand by Nina Bangs

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Briana,
I was just wondering the title of the book that went with that great opener. Thanks for sharing that with us.
Thanks for coming by to post too!

Cindy K. Green said...

Hey Maggie! Thanks for quoting the first line from NovelTea. When my sister read the book she said that opening sounded just like me. :)

I love opening lines too. Here are a couple from books I've read recently:

"Trapping a Duke into marriage was hard work." From Her Knight of Seduction by Phyllis Campbell

"Captain Alexander London's luck had just
run out." From The Captain's Wench by Patti Shenberger

"This is my favorite book is all the world though I have never read it." From The Princess Bride by William Goldman (a re-read - love this book)

"Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world." Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Okay I'll stop now. :)

Maggie Toussaint said...

Oh Cindy. Those books all sound like great fun. I'm adding so many titles to my Wish List today.

Thanks for stopping in and tempting us with great openers!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

"Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

This is the first line of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. (Can you tell I have a grandson? Luckily?)

But in one line, you understand there's a mother and daughter, they're civilized and polite, it's morning, there's a father who the girl probably loves, and the little girl (whose name is Fern) is concerned and curious about where he's going with an axe. And as a result, we are too.


Lisa Logan said...

Great post! The first line in Stephen King's Dark Tower fantasy series grabbed me and I've never forgotten it:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Simple, yet so much intrigue...and intros two MC's in one shot.

Diana Cosby said...

Great topic, Maggie. All of my books are in boxes at this second, but the first line from Montana Sky by Nora Roberts is my all time favorite. :)

Diana Cosby

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Maggie, for posting my first line! 8^)

I love opening lines.

Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died. His being dead didn't change that. GUILTY PLEASURES by Laurell K Hamilton

I kept trying to tell myself, You've survived worse that this, but it didn't seem to be working. WINDFALL by Rachel Caine

She had been running for four days now, a harum-scarum tumbline flight through passages and tunnels. NEVERHWERE by Neil Gaiman

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Hank!
Charlotte's web is one of my favorites too. Lucky you with a grandson. It just isn't the same reading aloud to my granddogs.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Lisa Logan!

I'm very interested in the first line you posted. It defintiely makes me want to read more.

Thanks for dropping in!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Diana,

Nora has some classic first lines, and that one from Montana Sky is golden.

You are a great friend to drop by a blog chat when you just moved across the country. Hugs!!!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Karen,

Your favorite first lines get my curious up. They all convey a mood and the need to know what comes next. Great going!

Thanks for dropping by.

Terry Odell said...

Great post, Maggie.

Two totally different openings --
For the last five minutes, I'd been parked outside my cousin Vinnie's bail bonds office in my crapola car, debating whether to continue on with my day, or return to my apartment and crawl back into bed.
Lean, Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

Nathan Rubin died because he got brave.
Die Trying, by Lee Child.

There are more, but the 'in th last year' rule means I can't share some of my all-time favorites.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Terry!

I love your first lines. "Crapola car" is such a great descriptor. And I feel like I have to know more about Nathan Rubin. Lee Child really makes me want to know more.

Thanks for coming by and sharing intriguing openers.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

I'll actually put a book right back down if the first line turns me off, fickle soul that I am. ;-)

I love this one - 'I have to let this story go. It is with me all the time now, a terrible weight.' It's from Anita Shreve's 'The Weight of Water,' and right away you know you're in for something mysterious, a confession, something huge. And you are! And how about this, from Michael Connelly's 'City of Bones' - 'The old lady had changed her mind about dying, but by then it was too late.' Wow!

Thanks for mentioning A Different Kind of Honesty - that first line was a piece of luck, and it always gets a reaction, lol!

Jane x

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Jane,

Great openers you posted! I have had that feeling about stories before, that they were weighing me down - I instantly identified with that line. And the old lady changing her mind about dying is priceless.

Thanks for stopping by!!!

Bess McBride said...

Thanks, Maggie! You're a doll! I can't think of a single first line at the moment, but I wanted to stop by and say hi and thanks!


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Bess,
Thanks for stopping in! Sometimes having to go to work gives me brain freeze too. Feel free to pop in a first line later on, if you like.

Judith Rochelle said...

Hi Maggie. Great blog. Thanks for posting my line from Love With a Proper Rancher.

Here's a couple of my favorites:
"The sick and depraved ahd voted: death by stabbing."
Allison Brenna, Fear No Evil

"Lane Franklin told himself that he shouldn't freak out."
Elizabeth Lowell, The Wrong Hostage

"Winter MacKeage lost the thread of the conversation the moment the large male figure stepped into view."
Janet Chapman, Only With a Highlander

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Judith!

Your favorite openers are real attention grabbers. Allison's title immediately set me up for a suspenseful story. And poor Lane Franklin. I can tell just by this opener and the Title that he's in for a rough ride. Your last example makes me hope its a historical. I've had those kind of moments where I've lost my train of thought the moment someone walked in the room. That empathy propels me forward into the story, making me want to know how she recovered.

Thanks for stopping in and best of luck with sales of your On The Run, the book that is going 100% to charity.

Melissa said...

Nice post. congrats on getting into the how-to book. That's quite a nice accomplishment!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for stopping in. Chris Roerden is a very talented author and an excellent editor - no wonder she wrote such a great book on writing.

Karen McCullough said...

One of my current favorite opening lines is from one of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books, BLOOD RITES:

"The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault."

-Karen McCullough

Celia Yeary said...

"It was well known around Russellville, Alabama, that Tommy Lee Gentry drove like a rebellious seventeen-year-old, drank like a parolee fresh out, and whored like a lumberjack at the first spring thaw."--THE HELLION, LaVyrle Spencer--1984

"The room held a small refrigerator stocked with apple juice and soft drinks, a two-burner hot plate, a phonograph, a circle of worn, comfortable chairs, and a smeared green chalkboard that said, GRIEF GROUP 2:00-3:00."--BITTER SWEET, LaVyrle Spencer--1990

"Agatha Downing looked out the window of her millinery shop and saw a life-sized oil painting of a naked woman crossing the street."--THE GAMBLE, LaVyrle Spencer, 1987

This author's books were old by the time I discovered them, and hers were the first romance novels I ever read. She is the only author whose novels--all 23--sit on my collection shelf. I've looked ever since to find an author who writes with great emotion and depth without sex scenes, as she does. Celia Yeary

Joyce said...

It's my first visit to this blog, but I'm pretty sure I'll be back! Great suggestions for first lines.

I'm reading a wonderful book right now, by fellow Sister-in-Crime, Kathryn Miller Haines called The Winter of Her Discontent (Harper). The first line is, "Some guys brought you flowers; Al brought meat."

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Karen,

I love that opening line about the building being on fire. It certainly puts the reader in the middle of the action.

Thanks for dropping by!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Ceila,

I didn't know your were a big LaVryle Spencer fan. I've enjoyed her books too. Of the three lines you posted, my favorite was from The Hellion. There's something about bad boys that just makes me want to read on.

I hope nobody psychoanalyzes that last remark!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Joyce,

There's something to be said about a man that brings you meat instead of flowers. I would love that as I am allergic to most flowers, plus I am very politically incorrect and enjoy red meat. For health reasons I try not to eat a ton of it, but meat is one of my comfort foods. Haines' Al is already a hero in my mind.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cheryl Norman said...

Here's my contribution:

The kidnapper had not yet come.MY LADY'S TREASURE by Catherine Kean, Medallion Press.

Good blog topic, Maggie!


Marianne Arkins said...

How about the first three lines of a book I just finished:

From the top of the jetty to the rocks below was roughly twelve feet, give or take. Not enough to break much more than a few limbs, the man standing at the far edge thought wryly. Hardly worth the jump.

From "Mercy Street" by Mariah Stewart.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Marianne,
Thanks for letting me sit in at your blog today! I love the lines you quoted. It makes me think the POV character wants to commit suicide or that someone jumped and survived. I want to know more. Great hook.

Brandy said...

One of the books I read recently, Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not exactly) Family Jewels by Toni McGee Causey, The first line: Bobbie Faye Sumrall was full up on crazy, thank you very much, and had a side order of cranky to spare.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Cheryl,
I almost missed your post. Ay-yi-yi. Sometimes my eyes and brain don't mesh like they should. Heck. It may be more often than sometimes, but who's telling?

Catherine Kean has such a nice way of phrasing. Her opener makes me want to sink into the story.

Thanks for stopping by!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Brandy,

I love the attitude and spunk in the first line you posted. Crazy and cranky are very powerful launch emotions. I definitely want to know more about Bobbie Faye

Thanks for posting.

Dru said...

First line: I was so innocent then.

Taken from Deadly Deceptions by Linda Lael Miller

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Dru,

I love that line by Linda Lael Miller. Makes you want to read more!