Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Martha Thinks Firsts Are Overrated

The first line of this blog sucks.

You still reading? Good. Because I don’t care about first lines. Or even first paragraphs. As a reader, I expect to do some work, pull a little weight of my own, and that includes getting past a first page or even first chapter without needing to be dazzled every second of the way.

I want to be drawn in, seduced – and in my experience (with books) that happens best when it happens slowly, bit by bit.

If I were going to judge an entire book by one line – it would be the last. I want a line that makes me exhale or even gasp*. A line that makes me caress the back cover as I close the tome. One that sends me back to the beginning to rethink every plot twist and the characters’ journeys.

“After all, tomorrow is another day” means nothing without Scarlett’s stubborn resistance to Rhett.

“He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance,” while beautiful on its own, is even lovelier because of the pain Frankenstein and his creature endured.

A first line is a blank slate, but a last line brings with it the baggage of the last hundred pages. It must deliver on tens of thousands of words of promises. By a book’s last line, you’re ready for payoff. You’ve cried at the character’s sorrows. Laughed at their moments of joy. By the last line, the story no longer belongs to the writer. It’s yours.

* Sophie is a gasp-hater, folks. She absolutely detests the verb gasp. Thinks it has no business in a novel. So I'm putting this on the line. The first person to buy Sophie's book, A Bad Day For Sorry (Aug 09) and find the word gasp in it - email me with the page number @ There's a $25 gift certificate in it for you. If the word gasp isn't in that book, then it's $50 to the person who finds it in her second release, a YA novel for Fall 2010. If not there, then $75 to the third book. I could do this all decade, people. All. Decade.

** Do you want to know the winner of Ellen Hopkin's 30 page critique? Well then...take a look below.....
Christina Farley, come on down! For a take on why Christina's win is extra serendipitous, read my post on the raffle drawing.


Christina Farley said...

Ok, so you made me cry. I'm going to go freak out and then I'll be back.

Christina Farley said...

Okay, so I'm back and can think clearly now. Thank you! I'm thrilled.

I also agree with you. I'm more of a last line kind of girl too. That last line pulls in all that you've read and either leaves you flat or intrigued or warm and fuzzy. Yep. Last lines rule.

Meg Wiviott said...

I wish editors felt the same way you do. There's SO much pressure to have a perfect first line and a perfect first page! I agree, the last line should take my breath away.

Karen Olson said...

As a reader, I choose a book based on the first page: the first line, the voice, does it seem like it will suck me in. So I'm a sucker for a good first line. A good last line is good, too, but if you can't make it through the first page, you're certainly not going to see it.

Karen Olson said...

And just a postscript:

If you read a book with this first line, would you continue:

I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should've put some plastic down.

(from Victor Gischler's incredible GUN MONKEYS)

justJoan said...

First of all, congrats to Christina!

I absolutely love this post. While we are hammered with how important our fist lines are, it's important to remember last lines can have a bigger impact . . . for good or ill.

Martha Flynn said...

I'm extremely excited for Christy! I would have had something nice to write about everyone who entered because I do know and interact with most of them (one just set me up with her critique group, another was very supportive during a rejection) but Christy was the FIRST so I loved that you won, Christy!

I've just never been about the first line. And I get weirded out when I feel a first line is trying too hard. Like the book feels really needy. I don't enjoy needy people. And therefore don't enjoy needy books. Although I myself an needy. It's a double standard. I know.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the seduction model, although I prefer to be seduced in the first 10-15 pages. Anything more than that is just playing hard to get. And hard to get should be saved for a fabulous last line...always leaves them wanting more!!! Great post, Martha.

Stephanie W said...

VERY good point! I never thought about that. It IS the last line that tends to stay with you.

I *do* think first lines/paragraphs/pages are important, but the first line cannot carry a book. The last line has the potential to create fans.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and for all those who are interested in getting an ARC of Catching Fire, Shiver, or Along for the Ride check out:

- Whitney

monica said...

Martha, great post and you have an excellent point, however, I find that I don't remember either! But between the choice, I'd vote for the first line to be killer because it does have to snag me:)))