Thursday, January 15, 2009

Starting Sentence Seduction

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Let me tag onto Suz's article, Seduce Your Reader (hey, scroll down a bit if you haven't read it).

I have over 800 books on my To Be Read shelves. I've selected the next couple I want to read. What did I pick?

"My course of action became clear once I tied him to my bed."

"Hanged by the neck until dead, every one of 'em," Lavinia Mather said with enormous satisfaction."

"When the Desdaine triplets were born on a frigid February night (Withering came first, then Derisive, then Scornful, all sunny-side up and gazing with big blue eyes at the ceiling), the doctor and attending nurse screamed and screamed."

"If you want a short-cut to an alien culture these days, there is no quicker route than to look at a French phrase book."

"Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock's brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began."

Yep, those are the first sentences of the books. (BTW, they include a non-fiction and a middle-grade novel. I read eclectically.) Now mind you, I'd already bought these books based on things like the author name, genre, back blurb, and first page. But out of all those books on my shelves, it is that first sentence that grabbed me, made me decide to move the book from the shelf to my bedside table to read next.

Most submission guidelines say to send the first three chapters of your manuscript.

Uh, you don't really think you've got three chapters to seduce an editor or agent, do you? You don't actually believe we read a full three chapters of every submission? What, you think we've got hundred-hour days? That's what it would take to read that much, considering the volume of submissions to most publishers and agencies.

Imagine a potential reader browsing the bookstore shelves or looking through the excerpts on an online site. You've got at best a couple of paragraphs to grab a reader or you've lost a buyer. And that is what the editor or agent takes into consideration - will this book sell well? So you have to seduce the reader persona within that editor or agent - if the start of the story doesn't sell the book to them, they are not going to contract it and give it a chance to seduce all the other readers.

Oh, and after that "wow, I want to read this" first sentence, don't let the reader down! Make the first couple of paragraphs just as enticing.
My course of action became clear once I tied him to the bed.

It all started innocently enough. I was supposed to meet some friends at a hot new bar, but the entire evening conspired against me. The trendy bar had a huge line winding from the velvet rope all the way down the block. And then the skies opened, drenching my perfectly constructed 'do and plastering my gelled hair to my head in a sticky mess. Of course it also ruined my new suede outfit, and...

Where was I? Oh yeah, the guy roped to my bed. Well, not roped exactly--more like tied securely with my black lace stockings.

Oh, and did I mention he was blue?

But I digress...

(Galaxy Tryst by Piper Leigh)


Anonymous said...

Hmm, one of those in your 'to be read pile', I bought for the same reason. Great opener. The rest of the story didn't live up to it.

Anonymous said...

With a catchy opener, keeping the tension up until the last page takes enormous writing skill. Not for the faint hearted that's for sure. As a writer I always start with a change, sometimes shocking, in the life of the first character introduced. The story kicks off from there and maintains the thread right to the last page.

Anonymous said...

My favorite opening line went something like (can't remember exactly) "I've seen stranger things than a haunted tennis shoe... but not many." *giggles*