The first 14 lines

Monday, November 10, 2008
Arguably the most important part of your novel is the first 14 lines.
One could argue that if the cover and back of the book catch the reader's attention, the reader will then open the book and read the first page. If they continue to like what they see, they will buy.
But there's an even more important reason.
Agents/editors pick up your MS and start reading from the begining. If you're first 14 lines don't catch them, it doesn't matter how brilliant the rest is. They'll never see it. And neither will the bookstore patrons.
So craft your first page (14 lines) with the all care and precision of a heart surgeon.
2--Don't start with the weather. This isn't a forcast. I don't care if the setting sun looks bruised or if thunder is rumbling in (though a few spread out lines lines is perfectly okay.)
2.5--Don't overdue the description. A good rule is keep it to one sentence per paragraph and no more than three paragraphs in a row before we get a break.
3--Start with tension. I try to start my novels with a mini story. One that can creates a lot of tension and can quickly be resolved (ie-in The Last Witch, my main character is accused of stealing.) This gives the reader insights into your character's motivations, behaviors, and social standing.
4--Show don't tell. IE-Shanna was smart. This is telling. Show me she's smart--Shanna quickly scratched out three lines of equations and masterly rewrote them. Finished, she plopped the pencil down and smiled. "Kid's stuff."
5--Please, please, please, don't 'head hop'. I HATE head hopping. Stick with one character's POV.
6--Introduce your main conflict somewhere in the first chapter. The mini story can be part of the whole plot.
7--Keep it realistic. Don't overdue the grandiose. We need to relate to your character, not laugh at their epic speeches/thoughts/quests.
8--Make me buy you're quest in the first 50 pages. I need to yearn for your hero/heroine to come together, your hero to save their world/family/farm. I'm not going to care if Hebeshon saves his gourd.

Heres the first 14 lines of Witch Song. Here's your chance to bash me for not following me own rules! Happy reading!

The sun scorched Brusenna’s straw-colored hair and the street's dust clung to her feet as if begging her to take it away from this stifling place. She knew exactly how the dust felt. Every part of her wanted to whirl and run as she waited for the merchant. But she and her mother needed the supplies.
“Twelve upice,” Bommer said sourly as he wrapped the spools of thread in crinkling brown paper.
A ridiculous price. If she were anyone else, she could have bartered it down to half that. But she was not anyone else. She was a witch. She held out the coins. The man’s gruff paw swallowed the dull upice in mounds of fat. She wondered what marvelous things he ate to flesh out his skin that way. Things like the honey sweetened cakes that she could still smell in her clothes even after she'd left the marketplace.
As Bommer counted his money, Brusenna gathered the packages tightly to her chest and turned to go. She hadn’t gone five steps when a meaty hand clamped down on her arm. With a wince, she craned her neck up to see the merchant looming over her.
“You tryin’ to cheat me, chanter?”


  1. Anonymous said...:

    "Make me buy you're quest in the first 50 pages."

    you're = you are
    your = possessive form of you

    You know, it would a bit more easier to read your blog if there was more space between paragraphs. *wink*

    Regarding those 14 lines, there's some nice metaphor tucked in there, with the dirt. (…That sounds weird.)

    I think the entire explanation that she couldn't negotiate because she was a witch was overkill, though. You could just say most could negotiate, but not her, and leave the reader to find out why when the merchant starts accusing her of thievery.

    *grins* I mean that all nicely, of course. I've been a professional copyeditor.

    (I'd log in, but for some reason Blogger hasn't let me, lately—thus the reason that Cuppa Caff hasn't gotten updated.)

  1. Oh dear. A copy editor. I'm in big trouble. I usually don't proofread my posts to perfection. Too darn lazy. I apologize in advance for my shortsightedness, but I'm too old and onery to change my ways.

    I hereby promise to work on the spacing though--it's a good tip.

    I like the thought about overkill. Thanks!

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