Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Sentences

Opening sentences are critical. If the opening doesn’t grab an agent or an editor then nothing else is going to matter. For that reason it sometimes takes many attempts to get an opening that works for a story. Fairy tale authors had it easy: their stories could all start “Once upon a time.”

Below are six opening paragraphs from various drafts of When Mike Kissed Emma. They are not posted in any particular order.

Which opening grabs you? Which one do you think is the one you will find on the first page of When Mike Kissed Emma? Put your guesses in the comments.

1) “Are you trying out for the school play?” I asked Mike as he effortlessly opened his locker, while I struggled with mine.

“Geez, Em,” he complained, “how many times are you going to ask?”

He had a point, I suppose. “I don’t know,” I tried the combination again, still nothing. I had asked him about four times today – but he was making me ask him over and over, because he hadn’t given me an answer yet. Once more with the locker – third time’s the charm, right? The lock clicked, now, I just had to get the latch open. And it opened, suddenly, sending me bouncing off Mike. I straightened up, casually adjusted my shirt, and put my books away.

2) I walked right into him.


And knocked him over.

Biker Mike. The last person you want to knock over in the hallway: leather jacket, long hair, tattoo.

3) The gym was decorated in some sort of aquatic theme with blue streamers and paper fish hanging from the ceiling. The band, a bunch of kids from school, was playing. The only lights on were in the back near the punch and cookies, so the dance floor was appropriately dim. But the dance floor was empty. Everyone stood milling around, watching the band from a safe distance, but no one seemed willing to get things started.

Well, I was willing.

4) “When you’re sixteen going on seventeen,” I sang to myself as I spun the dial on my locker. “left to five, ‘waiting for life to start’ to the right, spin past 25, now land on 25, good, ‘somebody kind will open your heart,’ now back to the left to 18.” I pulled on the handle. It didn’t open. “Damn.”

“Do you ever stop talking?” the guy at the locker next to me asked. His locker was already open, and he was putting on his leather jacket.

“Only when I’m sleeping, Mike,” I answered.

5) I walked right into him. I didn’t even see him standing there until I bounced off his chest. Books went flying. Pencils and pens clattered across the black and white floor tiles. And I would have landed on the floor too, if he hadn’t grabbed my arms and steadied me. I looked up to thank him, and saw the most gorgeous blue eyes. Really blue. I don’t think I’d even seen anyone with eyes that blue. And then I realized who those eyes were attached to.

Biker Mike.

6) “Until you find your dream,” the girl on stage warbled. Emma Landon winced. She had a feeling that some of the people trying out would be fairly easy to rule out, that was good, less competition for the role of Liesl. She took her strawberry blonde hair out of its ponytail, and then, put it back in again.

“Stop fidgeting with your hair,” hissed her best friend, Lauren Gardner, who was sitting next to her.

“I’m not,” Emma insisted.

“It makes you look nervous,” Lauren insisted.

“I’m not nervous.” Emma insisted.

Countdown: 27 days.


  1. I'm not sure which it is but I like #2. ;) It snagged my attention.

    The protagonist of my story, Crimson Moon, is named Emma. It's short for "Emmaline" but still. Cool name! ;D

  2. Emma is a cool name!

    Thanks for guessing - I won't reveal the answer yet. Stay tuned!

  3. My guess is #5. But #4 really made me laugh.

  4. Thanks for guessing Barb. Yes, #4 does go the more light-hearted route.

  5. I'll guess #2. What if nobody guesses right?

  6. Even if no one guesses right, I'll still reveal the answer tomorrow. Of course I could make you wait to read the book to find out the answer, but that wouldn't be very fair of me.

  7. #5 with #2 being my second guess. Openings are tough ... and so important. #5 gives a sense of where the story is probably heading. #2 is a bit crisper. It may have come down to your or your editor's personal taste. Having said that, it's probably neither.

  8. What a FUN idea, Chris! I love it! I may have to steal this for my release!
    And, of course, I know the answer :)

  9. Jim, you guessed right and so did Barb. Yeah, PJ you would have an unfair advantage in this contest. But if you want to steal the idea for your release - go right ahead!

  10. I let Middle Sister read the 6 choices without the comments. She also picked #5 AND said, "I want to read this book!" (And she's not a reader, so good job getting her hooked!)

  11. Barb, I hope Middle Sister likes the book when she reads it!