Thursday, January 12, 2012

Killer First Lines--by Lois Winston

by Lois Winston, @anasleuth

Death by Killer Mop Doll-low resUpstairs, the front door slammed with enough force to register a five on the Richter scale. That’s the first line of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. I’m a firm believer in first line hooks. The first sentence of a novel should make the reader want to read the second sentence. The hook doesn’t have to be defined in the first sentence, but that first sentence should lead you into the next. And that one to the next. Until you have a paragraph that becomes a hook that grabs and won’t let go. That first paragraph should do for the first page what the first sentence did for the first paragraph, and the first page should do for the subsequent pages what the first paragraph did for the first page. Finally, those first pages should create a first scene that refuses to let the reader put the book down.

The opening of a book should be filled with interesting action and/or dialogue that intrigues and makes the reader want to continue reading. One of the worst mistakes I see beginner writers making is filling the openings of their books with paragraph after paragraph of back-story and/or description. The opening of a book should suck the reader into the world the author has created. Back-story can come later, trickling in to tease the reader to continue reading more, not as information dumps that pull the reader from the story. A good opening will include only the barest minimum of back-story that is essential for that moment.

As for description, it should be woven into the narrative and dialogue. Nothing bores more than long paragraphs describing everything from the length of the protagonist’s hair to the color of her toenail polish. It pulls the reader from the story. And pulling the reader from the story is a BAD thing. It adversely affects the pacing of the book, and good pacing is something that is important to a well-written novel.

Sometimes the plot and conflict might not be evident in the opening of a book, but there should be enough of a tease within that opening to give the reader an indication of events to come. With the first sentence of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the reader knows something is about to happen.

Dialogue and/or narrative action are usually the best ways for a writer to create this foreshadowing of things to come, but internalization done well will also work as a hook. One technique is to begin your story by throwing the reader right into the middle of a conversation or event.

One of my favorite first sentences of all time is from Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. That book’s first sentence is:

Daisy Devreaux had forgotten her bridegroom’s name. How can anyone not keep reading after that sentence?

Do you have a favorite first sentence? Post a comment, and you could win one of 5 signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll I’m giving away as part of my blog tour this month. The full tour schedule can be found at my website,, and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, In addition, I’m giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, Also, for anyone attending The American Library Association’s Mid-Winter conference January 20-24 in Dallas, Midnight Ink will be raffling off the hand-crafted mop doll shown in the photo during the opening reception Friday evening. Register for the drawing at the Midnight Ink booth #1459.

Lois Winston and mop doll Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at Visit Lois at her website: and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.