Friday, February 5, 2016

BEST OF THE ARCHIVES: The Perfect Pickup Line (Or How to Hook a Reader!)

Best of the Archives. 
First posted in 2010. 
Comments are closed today. 

Hey, beautiful, is it hot in here,
or is it just you?

Hello, gorgeous—you must be tired
‘cause you've been running through my mind all day.

Ouch, babe—did it hurt? You know,
when you fell from heaven?

Okay, I don’t know about you, but if I were young and single and a guy approached me with one of the lines above, they would be dead in the water. And let’s face it—“dead in the water” is not where you want to be, whether you’re a guy looking to hook up with a girl … OR an author looking to hook up with a reader.
A guy has only one chance to make a first impression on a girl … and a writer has only one chance to hook a reader or an editor into the story of their heart. Now, honestly, do you really want to blow it on a lackluster first line?
When I walk into a bookstore to buy a book, I am drawn first by the title, the cover, the jacket blurb and then finally the first line or paragraph. If the first line or paragraph doesn’t reel me in, I put the book back on the shelf. Why? Because I am a first-line freak who wants to be wooed into the book by a “pickup line” that grabs me by the throat and says, “Hey, baby, take me home.”
But, don’t take my word for it—Joan Marlow Golan, Executive Editor of Steeple Hill said this in her Seeker guest blog two months ago Joan Marlow Golan Guest Blog: “What grabs me in a proposal is a great opening line—I find dialogue especially effective, or a sentence that propels me into the middle of some drama. ‘Setup’ openings and descriptions of the setting do not grab my attention.” Joan went on to say that one of the major reasons manuscripts are rejected by editors are because “the opening wasn’t compelling, so we didn’t read any further.”
So … what exactly makes for a great opening line? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it’s any number of the following things for which I have many examples, courtesy of the Seekers and a few of my own favorites. Keep in mind that I have broken them down into categories, but many of the following first lines incorporate a number of the categories, which, in my opinion, strengthens the line all the more:
1.) BREVITY: Yeah, yeah, I know I write 500-page books, so brevity is not exactly something Ruthy and I know a lot about, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love it—especially in other people! Here are some examples of brief first lines from the “100 Best First Lines of Novels” 100 Best First Lines of Novels as chosen by the editors of American Book Review. Notice that they are short and sweet and sold a ton of books:
Elmer Gantry was drunk.
Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis, 1927

It was a pleasure to burn.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953

Mother died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know."
The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942

And now a few fun examples from modern-day authors:

This was not the smartest way to die.
A Soldier’s Family, Cheryl Wyatt, March 2008

I would rather boil in oil than marry Noah Brenin.
Surrender the Heart, MaryLu Tyndall, August 2010

The sharks were circling.
Bobby Patterson had been at the party a total of three minutes.
But half that time was all it took for the smell of fresh blood
to circulate among the single women.
Love Remains, Kaye Dacus, August 2010

2.) DIALOGUE: Dialogue is always a winner because it automatically demands attention … you know, the old E. F. Hutton commercial that “when E. F. Hutton speaks, people listen”? Well, it’s the same with dialogue in the first line or paragraph—I instantly engage when I see quotes indicating somebody is talking to me, such as in the following examples of great first lines:
“Broken! It can’t be broken.”
Jilly Gardner squinted toward the light box where three X-rays
of her left ankle glowed in haunting shades of gray. “Take another look, Doc.
Maybe it’s just a smudge on your glasses.”
Where the Dogwood Blooms, Myra Johnson, July 2010

“You look awful.”
Will Sullivan shoved his hands into the back pockets of his Wranglers
and continued his intense scrutiny.
The Rancher’s Reunion, Tina Radcliffe, January 2011

3.) THOUGHTS: Ah … now THIS is my favorite, and many other writers as well, apparently, because when I polled the Seekers, the majority of them kick off their books with a thought, including me. That’s because a character’s thoughts are like a window into their soul and into the story. Not only do they carry the drama and appeal of dialogue, but they are usually both dramatic and practical, not only hooking a reader, but imparting insight into the character(s) or foreshadowing the problems ahead for that character. Here are some great Seeker examples:
Drop down and pretend to be dead.
Yeah, right. Samantha Reynolds took a tentative step backwards,
aware that tall sandstone buttes towering behind could trap her.
New Horizons, Sandra Leesmith.

Eat and leave. That’s all she had to do.
If Grandma didn’t kill her first for being late.
Sushi for One?, Camy Tang, September 2007

Cowboys ain’t nothing but trouble.
Second Chance Courtship, Glynna Kaye, February 2011

Ironically, I begin every one of my novels with the heroine’s thought. I guess this is because when I sit down and write a book, I become that character in my mind, so I just naturally pop out a thought. Somehow for me, this not only captures the essence of my character, but foreshadows the trouble ahead for her, such as in the following:
Sisters are overrated, she decided.
Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it.
A Passion Most Pure, Julie Lessman, January 2008

Poor, unsuspecting Mitch.
The dear boy—well, hardly a boy—doesn’t stand a chance.
A Passion Redeemed, Julie Lessman, September 2008
Sweet Thunderation—deliver me from pretty men!
Love at Any Cost, Julie Lessman, April 2013
I hope you’re hungry, Mr. Caldwell, because I’m serving up crow.
Surprised by Love, Julie Lessman, October 2014
When it comes to burning bridges, I am the Queen of Kerosene.
Isle of Hope, Julie Lessman, November 2015
4.) HUMOR: Now, when we talk humor in the Christian historical romance genre, for me, Mary Connealy is the queen, although Missy Tippens’ sweet, Southern style gives Mary a run for her money with her killer first line below in her contemporary novel, as does Betsy St. Amant. A reader automatically engages when an author makes him or her smile in the first line or paragraph, so if you have the knack … go for it!

The five horsemen of the Apocalypse rode in. Late as usual.
Calico Canyon, Mary Connealy, July 2008

If there was one thing Josie knew, it was the smell of a rich man.
And whoever had just walked into the diner smelled like Fort Knox.
Her Unlikely Family, Missy Tippens, January 2008

Unemployed. Single. And out of brownie mix.
A Valentine’s Wish, Betsy St. Amant, February 2010

It is a truth universally acknowledged that
a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813

5.) SHOCK: As a romance writer, shock is not exactly my thing, but there’s no denying its power in a first line as evident in the following examples.
Don't die, little girl.
Critical Care, Candace Calvert, May 2009

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie.
I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold, September 2009

I was six years old the first time I disappeared.

Vanishing Acts, Jodi Picoult, November 2005

6.) SUSPENSE: I always contend that it takes a smarter person to write romantic mystery or suspense because over and above the research, romance and engaging plot, you have the extra task of keeping your reader on pins and needles and surprising them at the end—not an easy thing to do. Here is an example from Seeker Debby Giusti who does this really well:
“Kate. I need your help.”
The urgency in the caller’s voice made Kate Murphy’s heart race.
“Who… Who is this?”
MIA: Missing in Atlanta, Debby Giusti, March 2008

7.) ACTION: Without question, action is a bona fide way to jerk your reader right into the story because it’s almost as if they are no longer just reading about someone else—they are actually experiencing the same thing too. For some reason, I didn’t have a lot of examples for action, so in addition to Seeker Pam Hillman’s action-packed first lines, I included one of my own from a prologue, which is a little long, but then what’s new?
Amanda Malone slammed into something hard and unforgiving.
The collision sent her cane flying. Strong arms wrapped around her,
keeping her from falling on her backside.
Eyes of the Heart, Pam Hillman.

She heard it before she felt it.
Harsh air sucking through clenched teeth, the grunt
of an arm raised, the soft swish of a hand slicing the air. “I want the truth—”
And then she felt it. The crack of knuckles when her jaw met
the back of his hand,  the thud of her head against the wall,
the putrid rise of nausea as it climbed in her throat.
“Did you sleep with him?”
“No, I swear—”
A Heart Revealed, Julie Lessman, September 2011

8.) INSIGHT INTO THE CHARACTER/STORY: To me, this is actually a lot like “thoughts” because it gives the reader a glimpse into the hero or heroine, but it’s done through action or the author’s description of the character. Anytime an author imparts insight into their character, it revs me for the story, such as in these excellent examples.
Elizabeth Manning had examined every option open to her.
But in the end, she had only one. Her heart lurched. She had to run.
The Substitute Bride, Janet Dean, February 2010

Charlotte Hale’s legs, hidden beneath her long serge skirt,
wobbled like a newborn colt’s.
Love on Assignment, Cara Lynn James, January 2011

Returning to Hawk Ridge pasted Zac Davidson smack in the middle
of a Hallmark movie, complete with endless commercials and burned popcorn.
Unfortunately, he'd never had use for idealized propaganda
and the notion of happy ever after.
Well, not in this lifetime.
Take Two, Audra Harders

He stood hard and unyielding,
one arm stretched across the entry as if to block Kayla’s approach.
Light spilled from the angled door of the old farmhouse,
warming the mold-hashed porch with a splash of gold,
backlighting his rugged frame.
Winter’s End, Ruth Logan Herne, March 2010

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful,
but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm
as the Tarleton twins were."
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
The Bible, God, 1384 AD

Okay, there you have it—my suggestions for coming up with great “pickup lines.” And remember … “pickup lines” are not just a handy tool for a guy who wants to hit on a girl in a bar … they’re a must for the writer who wants to hit on the hot button of an editor or reader … an editor or reader who, if you get lucky, just may take you home.

GIVEAWAY: Unfortunately, since this is an archive post with comments turned off, I can’t do a giveaway, but I can TELL you about giveaways going on right now, along with a preorder sale on my novella prequel, A Glimmer of Hope, so be sure to check out the graphics below for a chance to win a KINDLE FIRE, GIFT BASKETS, GIFT CARDS, FREE BOOKS, AND A CHARACTER NAMED AFTER YOU IN MY NEXT BOOK! Hope to see you there!

 February 10-29, 2016:

Join Debbie Lynne Costello, MaryLu Tyndall, and me as we celebrate the release of our latest books with some fabulous prizes, including 2 Kindles, Amazon gift cards, gift baskets, and books galore! 


Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Friday, February 12, 2016
Friday, February 19, 2016
Friday, February 26, 2016
Monday, February 29, 2016

Friday, March 4, 2016 — Winner’s Announced

A prequel novella to Isle of Hope?? Yes, it’s true, A GLIMMER OF HOPE is on sale for only 99 cents until it’s release date of March 1st, 66% off of the release-day price, so take advantage!

She’s a wounded girl serving up trouble.
He’s a pastor’s kid bent on serving God.
But can they find a glimmer of hope for a future together?

Come help me celebrate reader friend/blogger Jasmine Augustine’s birthday with a giveaway of A CHARACTER NAMED AFTER YOU IN MY NEXT BOOK and your choice of an ecopy of Isle of Hope or A Glimmer of Hope! Contest starts today, February 5 through February 11, so come on by! Here’s the link:

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Win TWELVE signed paperback books by TOP CBA authors such as:

Hannah Alexander, Tamera Alexander, Colleen Coble, Robin Lee Hatcher, Rachel Hauck, Denise Hunter, Julie Lessman, Cara Putman, Deborah Raney, Beth Vogt, Becky Wade, Susan May Warren