Over a decade ago I attended the Maui Writers Retreat, my first-ever workshop. I had some fledgling pages, an idea, and a boatload of nerves. When it came to hooking readers, the instructors talked about hooking them in the first page.
FIRST PAGE, my friends. At the time, that seemed daunting enough. I remember an evening session in which we could volunteer our first pages for public scrutiny. The instructor placed the pages on one of those overhead projector thingies that we don’t see much of anymore. I was so tragically nervous I thought I would die, but I did volunteer a page. The instructor told us our main aim was to get readers (i.e. agents) to turn the page.
Turn the page, yes. At least we had some paragraphs to play with. Nowadays we’re hosed if our first sentences don’t rock the literary world.
I’m not saying that our first sentences shouldn’t be quality–all I’m saying is that, jeez, can’t we slow down for LIKE 30 SECONDS to let the first paragraph or first page hook us?
I blame our ADD society for the cult of the first-sentence hook. Everything is so fast-paced that if we’re not instantaneously gratified we can’t be bothered.
There’s also the literary agent factor. They are so inundated with manuscripts that they must judge submissions fast. So, maybe what’s really going on with the first-sentence nuttiness is the hooking of agents. I’d like to think that readers peeking at Amazon first pages peruse the first paragraph or two. I’d like to think.
I may pine for the good old days of first pages, but I did my damnest to write a hooky first sentence. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I cared about writing a hooky first paragraph. What we’ve got here–hopefully you agree–is a mysterious backstory; moodiness; foreshadowing; a protagonist with issues.
Merrit McCallum rolled a plastic vial between her palms so that the liquid morphine sloshed against the sides. Red and viscous—like blood—the liquid coated the plastic on the inside of the vial while her slick palms left smudges on the outside. She was tempted to squirt the opiate down her own throat rather than contend with Andrew, who waited her out from his rolling bed. She no longer called him father.
I also give you one lesson about beginnings, which is really a lesson about endings: Optimally, your ending should resonate back to your beginning. Full circle. I hope you’re now wondering how KILMOON ends, hehehe <wicked little laugh while rubbing hands together>.
So, tell me, in a world of first lines are you secretly a first-paragraph or first-page person?