First Impressions

Once Upon a Time...

Querying wasn’t going so well for me and it was time to take off the rose-colored glasses to figure out exactly why.  The majority of agents out there seemed to be looking for a query letter and the first ten pages of a book – hell, some only wanted the first four pages – and, if I was being completely honest with myself, my first chapter was the weakest of my entire book.  Clearly, this was very far from a good thing.

Logically, it kind of made sense: I'd written that chapter almost five years ago, and I’ve learned one hell of a lot since then.  Sure, I’d polished it up a bit during my various revisions, but I’d become enamoured with certain turns of phrase which were blinding me to the fact that my opening still suffered from slow pacing, far too much needless description, and a lack of any real hook that would carry the reader’s attention deeper into the plot. 

Those utterly fantastic “burlap” opening lines that I referenced in my last post had thrown down the gauntlet, challenging me to do better.  But I was drawing a blank.   So in the end, I put my manuscript on the backburner for a bit and dedicated some time to re-reading a few of my favorite authors to search out some inspiration. 

I made a list of some of the better opening lines that I came across:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.

Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff

Reveille was not the best thing to have reverberating through one’s skill after a night of too much and too little in various combinations. 

(NOTE: there’s actually a Prologue in this book but the quote above is how Chapter 1 begins)

Redshirts by John Scalzi

From the top of the large boulder he sat on, Ensign Tom Davis looked across the expanse of the cave toward Captain Lucius Albernathy, Science Officer Q’eeng and Chief Engineer Paul West perched on a second, larger boulder, and thought, Well, this sucks.

The End of All Things by John Scalzi

So I’m supposed to tell you how I became a brain in a box.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.  I visited my wife’s grave.  Then I joined the army.

To me, the best openings catch you a bit off-guard – even if only in a subtle way.  I wanted something that would peak someone’s interest, and ideally something that would leave them with a few questions that they’d want the book to answer.  To me, that’s what the books listed above did, particularly those last two by John Scalzi… pure genius. 

I started to brainstorm openings for my book, but I wasn’t particularly happy with what I was coming up with.  Then finally, one day last week as I took my dog for a long stroll, something popped in my mind that I could work with and the floodgates finally re-opened.

Eve Unknown by A. Lee Ripley

As you can probably imagine, allowing convicted criminals to remember their past lives each time they’re reborn would throw a pretty big wrench into the justice system. 

Listen, I’m not going to claim it’s in the same league as “burlap” (particularly because I’m Canadian, and it would go against my DNA to be that pretentious).  And I realize it's a bit wordy... but so far it's working for me, particularly with the lines that follow it, and it’s miles ahead of where I was with my earlier versions.   

After a day of hacking and slashing chapter one apart, I sent a query submission to a new agent and I'm hoping for an answer in the not too distance future (this agent normally has a fairly quick turnaround). 

Fingers crossed that she likes what she reads.

It was a dark and stormy night...



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two Responses to "First Impressions"

  1. Eric Thomson
    Eric Thomson on 09-04-’16 16:54

    Don’t worry. For my last book, my editor had me add an entire chapter at the beginning to strengthen the opening. She was right.

  2. A. Lee Ripley
    A. Lee Ripley on 09-04-’16 18:27

    :) Glad to hear it’s not just me.

    BTW: can’t wait to jump into both of your sci-fi series! As soon as I get through the Tanya Huff Confederation series I’m in the middle of, I’ll be diving into both of yours.

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