Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Writer's Wednesday - That All Important Opening Line

Pink Heart Society columnist Jenna Kernan is talking about her usual workspace, and also those more unusual, moving workspaces!


I was once at a workshop given by literary agent Donald Maass on the topic of opening hooks. 
One of the more terrifying moments of the workshop was when he asked for volunteers to read our opening line and Mr. Maass asked the audience to raise their hands if they wanted to hear the second line. Would you have read yours?
If you had, how many hands would have gone up? 
Several of the opening lines gleaned no hands.   

Ouch.  A few got the entire room.  My first line got fifty percent.  I have since rewritten that line.
This brutal eye opener does make me pause and ask the question—why should a reader, editor or agent read my second line?
Sometimes it takes more than one try to get it right and you can always come back to it.  In my current release, Tribal Law (#3), in the Apache Protector series from Harlequin Intrigue, I not only struggled with the first line but with where to begin the story.  I often have to write a chapter or two to get to know my characters and then I end up cutting those chapters which are more prewriting than opening. 
My 1st Try - When the FBI called, you answered, even if you were Apache. 
This begining raising a question of why the FBI is calling and that my hero is Apache.  Ultimately I thought that beginning with answering a phone call was worse than opening with weather.

My 2nd Try - Selena Dosela wanted her father to come home, didn't she? 
This raises the question of where her father has been and why she might not want him back.  Still no action.

My 3rd Try - Selena Dosela’s heart beat so hard in her chest she started gasping.

Yup!  That’s the one.  Who is Selena and what is she doing to make her heart beat so fast?  This one raises questions and has action.
Tribal Law is a RT TOP PICK so I think I finally got it right.  Here are the opening lines from each of the books in my Apache Protectors Series:
Shadow Wolf #1 – December 2015
Kino Cosen wondered if this trail might be the one that would finally lead to his father’s killer.
Hunter Moon #2 – January 2016
Izzie Nosie lay low over the mare’s neck hoping to make herself less of a target for whoever was shooting at her.
Tribal Law #3 – May 2016  RT TOP PICK!
Selena Dosela’s heart beat so hard in her chest she started gasping.
Native Born #4 – June 2016
If Cassidy Walker had known what would happen that Monday morning, she most certainly would not have worn her new suit.

So, where can you go for inspiration when crafting your first line?

Begin on your keeper shelf.  Then go to the bookstore and read only the first line of the books on the bestsellers list. 
Here are writers that hooked me right away!
“My twin brother is the one wanted for murder.”
Angi Morgan, SHOTGUN JUSTICE, Texas Rangers: Elite Troop
Special Agent Ashton Stryker’s heart pounded fast and hard with anticipation and a rush of adrenaline.
Lisa Childs, AGENT UNDERCOVER: Special Agents at the Altar
I’m twenty, and already, I’ve got nothing to lose.

Jeaniene Frost, THE BEAUTIFUL ASHES

The motel room door was ajar.

Elizabeth Lowell, PERFECT TOUCH


“But how can I?”      

                        Connie Brockway, THE BRIDAL SEASON


“Lady Hawksworth, your husband is not dead.”    

                        Lisa Kleypas, STRANGER IN MY ARMS

So what works best in an opening line?  

Raising a question in the reader’s mind.  Foreshadowing trouble ahead.  Opening in conflict.  Starting with action. 

I hope your opening line brings gads of eager readers flocking to your second sentence and your third and fourth…
What are your top tips with working with editors?  Share your advice in the comments! 

Jenna's latest book, Tribal Law is the third book in her popular Apache Protector series for Harlequin Intrigue, and is out now:

Only the warrior from her past could save her now… 

Tribal police chief Gabe Cosen would do anything to protect his people and their reservation. This sheer dedication to the law had even cost him his fiancée. Selena Dosela had never forgiven him for sending her father to prison. But with trouble back on her doorstep, Gabe vowed to keep her safe. 

Only extreme fear for her family would allow Selena to accept Gabe's help. Despite all they had been through, Selena knew she could trust him with the lives of those she loved. The lawman would never break his word…but if she wasn't careful, he might break her heart again.


Jenna Kernan writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue, Western Historical fiction and paranormal romance. Winner of the Book Buyers' Best award and two-time RITA nominee, Jenna has just published her twenty-fifth romance novel.  Tribal Law (#3) in her popular Apache Protectors series from Harlequin Intrigue release on MAY 1.  Look for the other books in this series: Shadow Wolf (#1), Hunter Moon (#2) and Native Born (#4) in June 2015.

Jenna is forming a new review team.  If you are interested in getting free pre-release copies of Jenna's latest visit her website to apply.


For more details about Jenna Kernan's stories, visit her EXTRAS page, subscribe to her newsletter on her website, visit her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.

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