Monday, September 26, 2016

Mission Possible—Ground the Reader

Your mission as an author—should you choose to accept it—is to ground your reader with the opening of your story.

First chapters—and last chapters—are the hardest to write. Often, writers will return again and again to “tinker” with either or both of these chapters. It has been said that the first line sells the book, and the last line sells the next one. Therefore, a lot has to be accomplished within the first chapter to entice the reader to keep reading.

The essentials—create a compelling protagonist, establish a reader bond with the character, and rock this sympathetic character’s world. Let’s examine the building blocks of each of these ingredients.

I. Opening Lines

As in life, first impressions can make or break potential relationships. You want your reader to form a connection with your main character. Your first and primary job is to hook the reader/agent/editor. You get one chance. Don’t blow it. Don’t give them a reason to stop reading.

Elements of Great First Lines Include—

1. The name of the character Or the use of a pronoun in such an intriguing first line that the reader continues to read the 2nd line and the 3rd and the 4th and so on.

2. An illusion of story reality (setting and situation) that causes the reader to willingly suspend disbelief. The opener straps in the reader and prepares them to enjoy the story ride.

3. Something is about to happen—an interruption to their “normal” world. Cultivate a sense that the reader has arrived in the middle of an active situation.

Description bogs down the reader and slows the pace. Weave description in carefully. The character and the situation must be fluid and in motion. Don’t warm up the engine. Rev the storyline and put the character into gear immediately.

II. Character Bond

The character must be interesting and an engaging figure. The reader should identify with some characteristic of the protagonist’s personality or dilemma. Here’s how to ensure the reader’s continuing, emotional investment:

A. Sympathy Factor—

1. Undeserved hardship—Haven’t we all been there?

2. Character in jeopardy—Jumpstarts our sympathy.

3. The odds are against him/her—Everyone pulls for the underdog.

4. Vulnerability—Show the inner conflict. Contradictions in a character add intrigue to reader curiosity. Also, give a glimpse of the forces arrayed against the protagonist, which could potentially crush the character’s dreams and hopes.

B. Likeability Factor—

Likeable people do likeable things. They save the cat, pat the bunny—they care about others. They can be witty or interesting. Use deep POV to catapult reader into the emotions of the protagonist as the main character experiences these emotions.

III. Storyworld

Set the stage. The opening scene must paint an image in the mind of the reader—the who (introduce early given and surname of main character); the when; and the where. This opening image will set the tone of the reading experience—suspense, thriller, romance (by the lack and longing thereof), etc . . . Establish the year (contemporary or historical), time of day, season, and the location of your story. Show what is happening now. Not what happened in the past before the story curtain rises. Setting also equals mood, theme, time, and pace. Establish the setting right away with a quick general sense of where the action begins. Sprinkle in as many of the five senses as you can through the main character’s POV to bring the setting to vivid life.

A. Common Mistakes—Just the Facts, Jack.

Try highlighting all backstory and description. This visual reminder will enable you to see where you need to trim. Allow yourself 1-2 sentences of backstory in the first chapter—only enough to increase curiosity. Never satisfy. Leave them wanting more. Compel them to turn to Chapter 2 to find the answers to the questions Chapter 1 has raised. Reveal as little as possible in the beginning. Less is more. Reveal only what is necessary and when necessary until the reader is committed to finding out what happens next. Act first, explain later.

B. Remedy—Slice, Dice and Splice

1. Slice what is not vital. Dice backstory into bits. Splice what is needed to understand what is happening now. Blend in on a need-to-know basis—only when the reader needs to know it.

2. Shorten and sharpen. Presume all backstory is unnecessary. Pretend you will have to pay for every word.

3. Show relationships through action and dialogue. Instead of a description dump, show behavior, quirks, or habits that go beyond physical description. Aim for quality, not quantity, in description. Use action verbs. Search and replace verb configurations of “to be."

4. Examine the white space on the page. Did you utilize dialogue and action—lots of white space—to prevent readers from putting down the book? Or is the page cluttered with narrative telling?

 Questions to ask your first chapter—

1. Did I hook the reader?

a. Will the reader care about the main character?
b. Is the main character likeable? Quirky or funny? Appealing? Sustainable?

2. Does the 1st chapter show the main character in the present action or dilemma of the story?

a. Was the reader pulled into the POV’s character and situation immediately?
b. Can the reader “see” the main character? Are their emotions clear? Does the reader have a picture of the character’s identity and what they need or want?
c. Did I introduce the potential opposition—who or what—which might prevent the main character from achieving what they long for?

3. Did I employ dialogue and action with lots of white space to provide more visually conducive reading experience?

4. Does the 1st chapter provoke new questions, stretching the hook, adding more interest, and thus reeling the reader into Chapter 2?

5. Does the opening scene achieve your purpose?

a. Whose POV is utilized?

b. Who is present in the scene?

c. Why is each one here? What does each character want?

d. Where is the scene?

e. When is the scene—time, day, season, year?

f. What happens?

g. How does the plot entice, hook and advance the story into Chapter 2?

h. How will this scene enhance character development?

Probably the best opening line I’ve ever written—the line readers tell me they find most memorable—came from my debut novel, Carolina Reckoning.

Part of her wasn’t surprised by what she discovered in her husband’s coat pocket.”

Giveaway—Share your favorite opening line from a book for a chance to win one of 2 copies of Falling for the Single Dad.  

Order Your Copy

   Finding Her Way Home

After fifteen years away, Dr. Caroline Duer is nervous about returning to her hometown. The veterinarian might be able to save stranded sea turtles, but she can't convince her dad of her good intentions. And when Caroline meets darling Izzie Clark, she encounters similar suspicion from the young girl's father. Former coast guard commander Weston Clark had his life upended by Izzie's mother. He won't go through the same pain again. But Izzie isn't the only one tumbling head over heels for the enigmatic Caroline. And if she can release the pain of the past, she just might be the missing piece Weston and his daughter have been searching for.


Lisa Carter's novel, Under a Turquoise Sky, won the 2015 Carol Award for Romantic Suspense. Her latest contemporary romance is Falling for the Single Dad. The author of seven romantic suspense novels and a Coast Guard series, Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales and researching her next exotic adventure. A native North Carolinian, she has strong opinions on barbecue and ACC basketball. She loves to hear from readers.


  1. Welcome Back, LISA!

    Love the cover of your new LI release.

    And what a timely post for all of us polishing pages to send off to editors and agents after the summer of conferences.

  2. Thanks for welcoming me to Seekerville again. I love the lighthouse on the cover. I hope this post will prove helpful as a checklist to writers.

  3. Hey Lisa, Tina is right. Perfect post for those of us who are polishing stories. Thanks so much.

    I didn't realize you were writing for LI - congratulations! Love the cover and the book sounds great.

    1. By the way, in the book I'm editing, my heroine is a vet. Small rural town, so it is farm animals plus cats and dogs.

  4. I'll share the opening scene from the book I just has that "hook" you are talking about :-)

    "My precious Lord;
    My only hope;
    My Saviour, how I need You now.

    Eleanor Morgan repeated the words, over and over, scrubbing her fingernails more vigorously with each repetition. Perhaps if she focused on the simple child's verse she taught her charges, she wouldn't feel like heaving. She bit her lip, trapping a scream behind her teeth. A merciless idea. Better had she cried out at the unfairness of it all, for now blood wasn't merely under her nails. Saltiness warmed the tip of her tongue."

    Lisa I love your motto here: "Never satisfy. Leave them wanting more." As a reader, that's exactly my sentiments when it comes to reading books. I want to be immersed in the story from the get go, and be left wanting more from the author when the final pages are done. My rule of thumb, if I can't get into the story by the first chapter, I will most likely put the book down without finishing it. I want the author to engage me from the start. I love learning more about how authors operate from your post. I can see how difficult that can be sometimes and never really thought about writing a compelling ending. But thinking back to all the books I've read, I can see how the author leaves me satisfied with a well written story.

    Please forgive my foggy brain if I'm not making much sense. I've been sick in bed for most of two days so my thinking feels rather disjointed! Just know I enjoyed your post and learning more about a writers methods when it comes to quality writing! Please add my name to the hat for a copy of your book, thanks so much!

  5. Great post Lisa. Definitely a keeper.

    As far as an opening line, one that sticks with me is from Ruthy's book, Back in the Saddle.

    "The sharp metallic click meant one thing."
    "Someone had a gun pointed in Colt Stafford's general direction."

    Cindy W.

  6. Lisa! This has got to be one of the best craft posts we've published, and I'm not blowing sunshine at you. Clear, concise and totally understandable... YOU ACED THIS!

    And I am amazed at how many strong opinions on barbecue exist these days. :) SO MANY!!!! If you talk to a Texan, they lean very strongly in one direction, the deep South tips another way and the coastal South is different yet... and I haven't tasted one I didn't love!

    But I must hear your opinions and make an educated assessment, my dear! LAUGHING!!!!!

  7. Terri, I love veterinarians! I had one in my second book, and it was so much fun writing his character, immersed in his profession. Loved it!

  8. Welcome, Lisa! Thank you this timely post, it's definitely going into my Seekerville notebook. Congratulations on your LI release, the cover is beautiful!

  9. Aw, Cindi, thank you! :) Poor Colt, what the heck kind of a homecoming is that???

  10. And back to the start of the story! I've been trying to figure out in my head hoe to start a new story which I want to work on during NaNoWriMo. I keep reminding myself to "Start with the Change" as Tina so wisely told me in a critique. But this story is so different from most and has a daring portion to it--just not sure where that 'change' falls. (Sigh...)

  11. Thanks for stopping by, Terri. Aquatic vets were fun to research. :)

  12. Trixi,
    I hope you are feeling better soon. Thanks for sharing that opening. Amazing. It's great to get reader perspective. Happy reading. :)

  13. Cindy W—Thanks for sharing the opening. Ruth knows how to hook readers and sustain interest.

  14. Ruth—Thanks for your kind words. Barbecue is serious where I come from—it's known as Carolina style BBQ. Pork and vinegar based. And since historically speaking it predates the others (think 13 colonies) we claim to be the original American bbq and the best. :)

  15. Thank you Jill for joining in the conversation. NC is known for its lighthouses. I told the art people to just pick one. And I think it turned out fine. :)

  16. Jon & VIcki—Starting in the wrong place is another reason 1st chapters are so hard to right.
    Maybe try writing it where you think it should begin. Then write chapter 2. Usually if you were wrong, chapter 2 will show you that chapter 2 is where you should have begun.
    Very aggravating, but I feel safe in saying this has happened to us all.

  17. I think one of my favorite 1st lines of all time came from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I read this as a teenager and many years later—many, many, many—I still remember the line. This novel plus a lot of Phyllis Whitney, Elizabeth Peters and Mary Stewart created my love of romantic suspense.

    Here's the line—"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

  18. Hi Lisa,

    What a great post! Definitely a keeper. Thanks for sharing today.

    Your cover is beautiful, and I've always been intrigued with sea turtles. It sounds like a great story! Congratulations!

  19. Thanks for stopping by, Jackie. It was fascinating to learn about the sea turtles in my research.

  20. Great tips, Lisa! Thank you! Definitely a keeper! :)

  21. LISA, welcome back to Seekerville. Thank you for this excellent post! You not only gave tips for grounding the reader, you gave tips for revising our manuscripts that will ensure the story is strong and salable.

    Here's the opening line from Jackson Rules, a novel--not an inspirational--by Sharon Sala writing as Dinah McCall: The desire to run was overwhelming.


  22. Hi Lisa!

    It's great to see you here. Lisa, Mary & I had stories included in a novella earlier this year! I was humbled to be in such great company. AND it was fun to meet you in person at RWA.

    Your topic is spot on!

    Glad to see you here today.

  23. Thanks for joining the conversation, Glynna.

  24. Janet—I love that opener from McCall. It's great to be with you all at Seekerville today.

  25. Hi Rose—RWA in San Diego was fun. It was great to meet you there. It was a lot of fun doing that novella with you and Mary. Thanks for stopping by.

  26. Thanks for stopping by, J Baugh. :)

  27. Hi Lisa - I like what you said about the sympathy factor. I fall for that every time. Also, you reiterate what I have lea
    rned here in Seekerville many times over: Cut the backstory and description. Never tell all in the first chapters. Leave them wanting more. I have actually been faulted and criticized in writing contests for not having more info in my first chapter or whatever, leaving questions, etc. Finally decided I don't care. I like (your) way better.

  28. LISA, it's chilly and rainy here in Indiana. I brought egg bake and coffeecake for breakfast with pots of coffee and tea.

    That line was the hero's thoughts as he was escorted from prison. Each line of that opening paragraph is gripping. The opening is easier to write when the plot is riveting. :-)


  29. TRIXI, hope you feel better soon!


  30. Cindy—I think you're on the right track. I have to cuts gobs of backstory every single time. The final draft of a first chapter is always painful. Thanks for joining the conversation. :)

  31. Janet—Thanks for the tea and coffeecake. Already had my single cup of coffee. Working today on a new 1st chapter—very appropos. Needed some comfort food and lots of hot tea. It's rainy in NC today, too.

    You make a good point of the importance of plot and story foundation. High stakes and high character motivation/risk are essential.

  32. Good morning Lisa.

    I soooo agree w/you on the first sentence/opening, and that sympathy-quality has got to be there. I don't want the h/h to be so dumb or stubborn they "deserve" what's happening to them,kin to the too-stupid-to-live. That really makes me put a book down no matter how exciting the opening is.

    I LOVE your opening line about the heroine finding something in her husband's pocket!

    My current opening sentence:
    "If she ran fast enough, she wouldn't die today."

    It's not too cutesy, but it drops us in the middle of the action.
    Great post!

  33. Lisa, I don't guess I've ever tried Carolina-style BBQ. I'm supposing you use pork and Texas uses brisket? (We do have a lot more cattle ranches than pig farms here so it would make sense.)

    Will have to try it sometime.

  34. I like your opening sentence. Intriguing and pulls reader into wanting to know more. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  35. Love this, LISA! I definitely have trouble with backstory/info dumps. Working on correcting that in WIP today, in fact. I also have a tendency to make things too easy for my characters - need to work on that. Thanks for such a helpful post!

    TRIXI, hope you feel better soon!

    CONNIE, love your opening line!

  36. LISA, thank you for writing such a smart post! Those first lines and first chapters are TOUGH!

    Hard to choose just one opening line but I'll share a classic from Albert Camus' "L'Étranger": "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte."
    I read the book for my French class in high school and the line resonated with me because my father had just recently died. Interestingly, the English translation of "Mother died today" never captured the subtlety of the line in French. It really should read more along the lines of "Today, mom died" - though even that doesn't quite capture it.

    I just started "A Hasty Betrothal" by Jessica Nelson and I love the first line: "Balls were the worst sort of social event."

    I'm going to go back over my first chapters with these tips before sending off my entry to a few more contests.

  37. Thanks Laura for sharing. Happy editing.

  38. Josee—Love your example.

    Here is another one of my fav opening lines—which I read as a teenager—from Pride and Prejudice:
    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

  39. Good morning Lisa! This is an excellent and timely post! I'm working through the first few pages of my manuscript to submit to a contest, and I'm going to comb through it with this post open in the window next to it. I especially love the "Slice, Dice, and Splice" concept!

    My favorite opening line has always been Moby Dick's "Call me Ishmael." And of course, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit," is classic. Characterization jumps right off the page!

    From a more recent story, I really love how Jan Drexler began Hannah's Choice: "Hannah Yoder stamped her feet against the October evening chill seeping through her shoes." Character, tone, setting, mood all packed in right there.

    And, to be controversial, the opening line of Andy Weir's "The Martian" definitely does the job of hooking the reader and creating immediate conflict. But I won't quote it here, because it does contain an expletive. So I wouldn't advocate opening CBA fiction that way!! ;)

    I've added "Under A Turquoise Sky" to my wish list too! Talk about a great first line :)

    Thanks for your post today!

  40. Thanks Megan for sharing so many wonderful opening lines. I've got to admit a special fondness for Under a Turquoise Sky—even though we're not supposed to have favorites among our book "children."

    Those characters grabbed my heart and imagination. I never knew from one day to the next as I sat down to write what they were going to do. But it was a wonderful ride as I experienced the adventure with them. Something I hope readers will enjoy, too.

    "As soon as the elevator doors closed behind her, Kailyn knew she'd made a mistake."

  41. Turn your car back on. Now
    The abrupt impatience in the man's voice stabbed Emily Hayes like needle Into bone.

    This is from the Ebook I'm reading to review now!

    Great post, Lisa. And I know writing is hard, that's why I leave it to you guys who make it look easy!
    Thanks for showing us a slice of it.
    I lve your LI cover, too

  42. Love the opening line, Marianne. Thanks for joining in the conversation. :)

  43. Welcome back, Lisa! What a great post! I loved this line: Presume all backstory is unnecessary. Pretend you will have to pay for every word.

    Ha! I love that idea. :)

  44. Haha! I debated between The Stranger and P&P. I re-read "Rebecca" this summer (hadn't read it since high school) and that first line is a classic too.

  45. Trixi, I'm sorry you've been sick!! I hope you're feeling better quickly.

  46. BTW, I LOVE Carolina style barbecue!! Of course, I love all styles of barbecue. hahaha

  47. Missy—Another favorite side of bbq—Brunswick Stew. I know that GA and VA debate who originated it. A lot of people have never heard of it, but is an essential condiment to Carolina bbq. The North Carolina version is thick and tomato-based with potatoes, butter beans (that's lima beans to those of you who are not Southern) and includes eastern NC pulled pork. Is it lunch yet?

  48. How about this for an opening paragraph? From A Tale of Two Cities—
    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…"

  49. Welcome, Lisa! What a great checklist! Now I need to go recheck the opening line of my wip!

    It really is a challenge to get all the relevant details in the first few pages without resorting to telling or backstory dumps AND while developing that strong emotional connection with the central character. Thanks for all the excellent tips!

  50. Thanks for joining the conversation, Myra.

  51. Just back from mall walking with Jan Christiansen. Stopped by to bring the Village PANERA'S bagels (and they have pumpkin!!!! WOOOT)

  52. Lisa this is terrific. Everyone should save this one and use it as a check list for their opening chapters.

    I can't think of a word you've got wrong. The only thing I'd add is, all of this is in your storyworld section) You have to root your reader in the story almost INSTANTLY. That is the trick to making them stick with you.

    The story needs to explode with action, but within that explosion you need WHERE AM I. You need WHO AM I. You need WHERE AM I. You need to START THE STORY, not just an explosion for it's own sake, but the story needs to be in there.
    Now that last sentence sounds dumb but I know books I've begun reading, and I have no idea where I am, who this character is, what STORY you're trying to tell me.

    I remember one contest entry and there was old letters that sort of spread out into a historical story. And I honestly was not sure if the modern story was some time travel thing or when exactly in history the book was. Very very confusing.

    So many times saying to add these things sound like they're going to drag your story...which is supposed to be a screeching halt. But it does NOT have to.

    Lisa Carter poked the campfire into flames as Ma pulled flour out of the back of the covered wagon.

    That one sentence does a LOT. You don't have to go into detail, just drop things like that in. It's surprising how often authors don't do it. I rewrite the beginning, just like you said, over and over, and I'll often find I've skipped some real basics in my rush to explode the story.

  53. Of course that's just ONE aspect of today's blog. There's so much in here, Lisa. THANK YOU!

  54. Lisa, what are you working on now. Is this release part of a series?

  55. Thanks Mary for further insights on this topic. Setting, storyworld—where and who are so vital.

  56. Hi Lisa
    I LOVE this post. So very, very helpful. Will need to copy/paste it or bookmark it for future reference. I do need the opening chapter helps.

    My favorite opener is Mary's Four horsemen of the Apocalypse arriving, late. I'm not near the book to accurately quote it, but that line cracks me up every time I read it and sure sets the tone for the book. (love my Connealy books...)

    I also LOVED your Under A Turquoise Sky. Awesome read!!! I also really like your newest book cover. I love lighthouses too. In the Va Beach area, so those NC lighthouses are within visiting distance.

    Please add my name to the draw for your book. I need to Wish List it so I don't forget to buy it if I don't win. (I tend to be forgetful, especially when trying to keep up with my six year old boy...*sigh*)

  57. Thanks for stopping by DebH to share the conversation. Love VA Beach. Always a fun spot as I head from NC up to the Eastern Shore. The Assateague lighthouse is also a favorite of mine.

  58. LISA, for me, the best stories have the most conflict between the hero and heroine. Internal conflict seems easier for me to create, but coming up with strong external conflicts is harder. Any tips for creating external conflict between the hero and heroine that's strong enough to carry the book?


  59. Thanks for the chance to win. The favorite opening line in a book I found close to me is When she came to, Evelyn Talbot could hear nothing." I believe that could hook a reader because you will want to find out what happened to her and why she cannot hear now. My email is iamabho (at) gmail (.) com

  60. Janet, I think a strong want and a strong obstacle must be a component. With strong characters who are different enough to spark off each other. A want so fundamental the main character is willing to risk all to attain it. And if he/she doesn't obtain "it" death will occur—either physically, emotionally, spiritually or relationally. The best stories often contain the risk of all of these types of death. The obstacles must be high and threatening to life, emotions, spirit or relationship.

    Lots of other things to enhance and build conflict. What else should we add to this list?

  61. Thanks for the chance to win. The favorite opening line in a book I found close to me is "When she came to, Evelyn Talbot could hear nothing." I believe that could hook a reader because you will want to find out what happened to her and why she cannot hear now. My email is iamabho (at) gmail (.) com

  62. Linda, thanks for sharing that great opening line.

    I also love this opener for Anna Karenina—"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

  63. This post was very interesting. I am a huge fan of interesting, eye catching first sentences. I can probably trace this back to when I read the first line of Riordan's The Lost Hero; which is still my favorite all-time beginning of a book. Here it is:

    Even before he was electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.

    Because of this I have always fought to make my own stories have good eye and attention catching beginnings. The beginning for my current WIP is:

    I was surrounded by ghosts.

    They circled around me with haunting cries. Some moaning in pain and some screaming in terror, while some remained silent simply staring at me with sad eyes. They reached out to grab a hold of my hair, to tug on my clothing; but I felt no touch.

    I tried telling myself that the ghosts weren't real, that they were simply figments of my imagination. I knew that they were not real, but that fact did not cease me from seeing them in my mind's eye.

    I shook my head trying to shake them away and stared up at the grand entrance of the castle in front of me. What is it about this place that causes my mind to react in such a way? I wondered. That makes it conjure these ghosts? Does this have something to do with my hidden past?

    However I did not ponder on the ghost's appearance for long. I had more pressing things on my mind, one of which being how to gain entrance into this impressive, well-guarded castle.

    Please enter my name for the drawing, the cover is beautiful!

  64. Thank you Nicky for sharing and joining the conversation. Best wishes on your writing.

  65. Nicky AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Such a cool beginning.

    I need to up my game on that!

  66. First line of my upcoming Novella LongHorn Christmas, in a collection called Cowboy Christmas Homecoming. Ruthy and Julie are in it with me, as is Anna Schmidt.

    The trouble with lassoing a Texas cyclone was—now you had a cyclone on the end of your rope.

  67. This is a keeper post for sure. Lot's of great writing intel. :-) Have to admit that the opening sentence and what's in the first page might just be the deciding factor in what book I buy when I'm at the store. I always want more than my budget permits so hooking me fast is the way to get this reader to make the purchase. Then, when I get home, I arrange (and rearrange) my TBR pile in order of how drawn I am to the story after reading a few pages.

    Here are two very different first lines from the same author -- Sarah E. Ladd

    "Mrs. Brathay's shrill voice shattered the late-morning silence like a warbler's call unsettling dawn's still mist." from Dawn at Emberwilde.

    "Is it always a sin to tell a lie?" from A Lady of Willowgrove Hall.

    Interestingly enough, neither example meets element #1 -- but they are brilliant examples of elements #2 and #3.

    No need to enter me in the draw -- I've read Falling for the Single Dad and loved it -- and the entire series.

    No need to enter me in the draw -- I've read

  68. DebH, I love that opening, too, which makes me wish I loved ALL my openings that much, which makes me want to dig in and work harder on it.

  69. I don't know if you noticed, Lisa, but Falling for the Single Dad is number FIVE!!! on the Best Sellers in Harlequin Love Inspired Romance Series. You can see it here.Falling for the Single Dad

  70. LISA, wow, you've definitely upped the bar on obstacles when you speak of death. Any kind of death. I need to think bigger!!

    I use wounds and backstory to find the internal conflicts between them. Those things that they haven't dealt with that keep them from finding and accepting love.


  71. Kav—Thanks for your input. I'm so thrilled you enjoyed Falling and the rest of the series. It's been so fun to create stories in one of my favorite places on earth.

  72. TINA!!!! Thanks for letting me know. Wow!! So exciting. Never happened to me before. As I wrote in a recent interview, the inspiration behind this story was born out of deep struggle and personal pain.

  73. Janet—wounds are so powerful. And since we all have them—stories of deeply flawed, wounded charcters finding restoration and redemption touch something in all of us. It's the very heart of the gospel story—God's Story—The Story. Just like the story structure we use in our writing (one day I'll write a post on this)—the world before, the world after the fall, rescue and restoration. The gospel is essentially a rescue story—Jesus rescuing us from sin and death so that we might find that HEA forever with Him.

    Sorry to go off on a tangent—a particular passion of mine.

  74. Lisa, what great questions you give us to consider!! I got so much out of your post. :) Processing. Re-reading it.

    For first lines, this is from Melissa Tagg's newest book, Keep Holding On: "He'd tell his family tonight. After the wedding. Before he turned himself in to the police."

    Anybody have questions after reading this? :)

  75. :) Love that Jeanne.

    Here's an opener for a book that's been out a while but remains one of my favorites—
    Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes
    "Nothing deepens a stream like a good rain . . . or makes it harder to cross."

  76. Lisa, yes, we have Brunswick stew around here! It's a hugely popular side dish at most barbecues we attend. And yes, the most common one is tomato based. :)

  77. Mary, I LOVE that novella opening!!! :)

  78. Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews.

    The entire first chapter hits everything with perfection. I refer my Self-Editing class to this first chapter.

    Something was off. Cara Kryzik was no psychic, but the minute her bare feet hit the floor that morning she sensed it.

  79. Lisa, I love when you visit Seekerville! You always provide such great's blog is no exception! Wonderful stuff. I love the idea of grounding the reader. So important.

    I'm late stopping by due to a proposal that's due today and just left my computer, headed for NYC! Hopefully, my editor will be grounded in the new story that takes place in the North Georgia Mountains. Oh, and there's an Amish twist. :)

    So good seeing you all too briefly at ACFW! Has does a conference pass so quickly?


  80. Y'all are coming up with some great openers. :)

  81. It was great to see you Debby in Nashville. ACFW always goes so quickly. Have fun in NYC. Hope your editor love your story.

  82. Lisa, I still remember that opening line from Rebecca, too....

    What a perfectly crafted story that was/is!

  83. Am I the only one who generally scraps a large part of her opening chapters.... and then when I realize who I'm writing about, I can jump in and hit "Do Over!".

    But sometimes I need that opening chapter to put me in the moment, in the situation....

    I love starting new projects, though. It's a total adrenaline rush when I start a new project... And I can't wait to see where it will take me.


    And, WHOA, you had me at "opening lines," girlfriend, because I love, Love, LOVE opening lines!! Not only are they SO fun to write, but SO fun to read too!!

    Excellent post, chock full of great info, so THANK YOU!!

    Gotta tell you that I absolutely LOVE your first line: “Part of her wasn’t surprised by what she discovered in her husband’s coat pocket." SOOOOO compelling!!

    You asked us to name some of our favorite first lines from books, but to be honest, there are SO many, I can't narrow it down to just one. Now, 100, maybe ... ;) But then I'm a sucker for first lines.


  85. Nicky...

    You had me at "hello"....

    I love that you delve into not only your heart for writing, but the emotions of seeing that which isn't believable... or else she'd feel the touch...


    And therein lies so much.


  86. Here's an upcoming opening line from "Silent Night, Star-lit Night" coming out next month... Mary Connealy and Margaret Brownley are in this sweet contemporary collection with me...

    Suitcase. Laptop. Purse. Emergency supply bag. Lack of chocolate noted. Remedy situation ASAP.

  87. Debby, how could she not love it to pieces???? :)

  88. This is a great post, Lisa, and one I will keep for a checklist.

    As for a first line, I was going to go with Pride and Prejudice which you already mentioned. My best friend and I in high school memorized it and went around saying it all the time. Yes, we were a bit strange. :)

  89. I don't remember a particular favorite first line, so I'm going to put this one down and then remember a ton later:

    "An Egyptian tomb is only a good place to hide if you happen to be the pharaoh for whom it was built." -Son of War, Daughter of Chaos, by Janette Rallison

    And of my own stories, my current favorite first line is probably this one:

    "Guten tag," I say. Then I punch the mutant in its face.

  90. Hi Lisa:

    Wonderful post! This is one of the most useful writing posts I've read. However, you have one line which just might be taken the wrong way:

    "Never satisfy. Leave them wanting more."

    While I think I know what you meant by this,('don't place the HEA in the sagging middle to boost reader interest --that is, don't give the punch line in the middle of your joke), advertising copywriters are admonished that 'no one has to read your copy. You must always be rewarding (satisfying) your reader'.

    Consider two comics:

    1) tells a long ten minute joke which has a great punch line and gets a huge belly laugh at the end of the ten minutes.

    2) tells an endless series of funny one-liners which has the audience laughing the whole time.

    Which comic would you rather pay to hear? And which would you want to hear for a second time? (Think 'keepers').

    I believe a writer should: Always be rewarding (satisfying) the reader -- but to always keep readers wanting more.

    To be sure, I've read your work and you are a 'reader-rewarding' writer. Nevertheless, seeing 'never satisfy' in print for me, an old copywriter, is like a fiction writer seeing 'tell, never show'.

    A favorite opening line that I feel captures exactly how to create a first line without calling undue attention to the cleverness of author is:

    As soon as the elevator doors closed behind her, Kailyn knew she’d made a mistake.
    From, "Under A Turquoise Sky."

    Of course, I'm not sure if I like this opening so much because I view it as a paradigm for the teamwork opener (and not a showoff) or because the story was so good and had cover art that is truly memorable. But I like it anyway.

    Please place me in the drawing for a copy of "Falling for the Single Dad". BTW: I collect romances with lighthouses on the cover. Many people love lighthouses, visit lighthouses, and collect scale models of lighthouses.


    A fun question: when you first read the opening line of P&P, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" didn't it pull you out of the story as you admired the cleverness of the author? I did me. I even stopped reading to see if the author had written any other books. Just a consideration. : )

  91. So this book IS part of a series. What's next, Lisa?

  92. Tina, the first 3 books are stand alone but deal with one of the 3 Duer sisters on the Eastern Shore of VA. Coast Guard Courtship, Coast Guard Sweetheart and the 3rd sister in Falling for the Single Dad. Book 4 is in the hands of the production team—The Deputy's Perfect Match—and will release in March. That story begins the next phase of this fictional storyworld village where I expand to include other townspeople's HEAs. Book 5 was turned in last week. Starting on Book 6 this week.

  93. Boo—I haven't read that book, but I loved the historical suspense series by Elizabeth Peters centered around an Egyptologist in the late 19th century. The Amelia Peabody mysteries.

  94. Sandy—I don't think you were strange. If you like P&P, you'll like my 4th ESVA novel coming out in March—The Deputy's Perfect Match. It's about a deputy sheriff strongarmed into investigating the new librarian and finds himself also enrolled in the Jane Austen Book Club with hilarious results.

  95. Vince—Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Also, thanks for liking my 1st line in Under a Turquoise Sky—my favorite of the books I've written.

    I am a big Jane Austen fan and her first line in P&P didn't pull me out of the story. But that may be a difference in my female POV reader experience versus yours.

  96. Wonderful, Lisa. How fast are you writing these? MOMMA MIA!!!

  97. So many first lines I like, but these are the first lines that immediately came to mind:
    A woman should mourn the loss of her husband. Or so Carly Richards once believed. Janet Dean's "The Bounty Hunter's Redemption"

    Lisa, this is a marvelous, timely teaching post. Thank you!

    Nancy C

  98. P.S. Lisa, the cover of Under a Turquoise Sky will always be one of my favorites.

    Nancy C

  99. I really like Slice, Dice and Splice, too. Very well put!
    I'll remember that term.

  100. Ruthy I write the opening over and over and I often back up or jump forward until I find the perfect moment to start and have all the elements (many of which I think up after writing a while) in place.

  101. Nancy—I love that Turquoise Sky cover, too. :) Thanks for sharing a first line.

  102. Ruthy and Mary—My first drafts are ugly things. I back up, jump ahead, rewrite and edit a lot before any manuscript of mine sees the light of day.

    Another fav 1st line from Carla Laureano's Five Days in Skye romantic adventure. "At least they couldn't fire her."

  103. Lisa, I definitely want to read your book with the Jane Austen theme. I will be watching for it!

  104. Hi Lisa Great post on the breakdown of that first chapter. Thanks for joining us here in Seekerville. What a great day you've had. We always enjoy guests that bring us such valuable information.

    This post was very timely. It helps to review the points if you're an old-timer. Always a good idea to make sure you have all the elements. And this is invaluable for the beginner. I have a couple beginning writers in mind and I'm going to be sure I tell them about this post.

    Thanks again. Have a great week.

  105. Thanks Sandra for joining the conversation. We've had some great dialogue here today.

  106. Very poignant post. I've been going over the suggested edits from samples I sent to people in my search for an editor on my novel. One of the sample editors commented that my first line wasn't strong enough. Staring at it again.

  107. "My first drafts are ugly things. I back up, jump ahead, rewrite and edit a lot before any manuscript of mine sees the light of day."

    Lisa, this one sentence alone is just what I needed to hear today. I have to get past thinking that my writing must be fabulous as I go. It makes writing really slow.

  108. THAT is a great first line!

    Super informative meaty post.
    Just excellent info.

    Organized, and with examples!
    Thank you so much, Lisa!

  109. Walt, I like great first lines, but I give myself a page.

    Some stories need a page, so I never obsess over the first line because my goal is to make the first paragraph/page an emotional grab.... and folks seem to love it, my friend, so don't stare too long!

  110. Jan—One of my favorite quotes is from Walt Disney—"Keep moving forward." Happy writing. Thanks for joining the conversation. :)

  111. Thanks Seeker ladies for hosting me today. It's been fun. Now . . . back to writing. :)

  112. I really enjoyed your lesson, Lisa. Great reminders and things to look for, especially setting up that first critical chapter. Many thanks!

  113. I'm a DAY late in posting, Lisa (was gone ALL day yesterday!) but still wanted to say thank you for this post.
    LOVE your LI cover too! (Anything with a lighthouse on the cover hooks me right away).
    Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo :)

  114. Excellent post! I'm double checking the WIP against these guidelines and love having a comprehensive list to run through. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  115. Dear Lisa,
    What a great Monday blog! If you start in the wrong place, Chapter 1 is hard to write." (my paraphrase). I have pulled my first wip out of many copies of multiple printings with several type fonts to indicate which I have one copy of the wip and am going through the notes I was given when I took Tina's course on Self-Editing. (BTW if you have missed this class it will be offered in April via Tina's website, My Critique Partner.) All of this rambling to say that I am using your checklist to see if my heroine is in the right place with the right situation to begin the epic. Can you tell I have been in the house for almost a month since my knee replacement surgery? Thanks to Tina for checking up on me and spurring me into action again.

  116. Very well done, Lisa!

    Please enter me in the drawing.

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!