The First Line

First lines matter. Whether they are in a blog post, a newsletter or a novel, the first line is crucial.

Whilst you’re in the editing phase of your writing, it can be easily forgotten to revise your first line. The first line will have different purposes in various texts but there is one thing it needs to be. Good.

Your first line, if writing for a newsletter or a blog, must intrigue your reader and invite them to read more. Your purpose here is to keep them reading right until the very end. A great way to revise your first line is to read your writing as a reader. Would you be interested? Would it stop you scrolling? What could you add to the line to make it more gripping? If you’re still unsure, it could be worth letting someone read the first line to give you another point of view. They may even see something that you didn’t.

If however you are revising a first line of a novel, the aim and purpose of your writing may be different. Your goal, as a writer, is to lose your readers in your novel. Allow your readers to become invested in your characters and don’t settle for anything less. Although you still need to grip the reader with your opening lines, you have a variety of techniques open to you. Here are a few that you may wish to try:

Surprise the reader

This type of hook causes the reader to raise questions or surprises them by catching them off guard. A great example of this is from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit: ‘It was a pleasure to burn’. The concept that some would like the feeling of burning seems very unusual. The sentence itself could also suggest that someone likes the action of burning something. As your mind begins to question alternatives, it has sparked the interest of the reader to keep reading. 

Begin with dialogue

This can also have a similar effect on the reader as it can catch the reader off guard. An example of this can be seen in the opening lines of Rose Macauley’s, The Towers of Trezibond: ‘”Take my camel dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass’. The animal itself may surprise the reader in this sentence, as well as Aunt Dot’s previous actions. Using dialogue in your first line brings your readers straight into the action and provides them with wanting to figure out what is happening and why.

Setting the Mood and Atmosphere

Although this technique may seem simple, it can be really effective when used correctly. Louise Erdrich does this beautifully in Tracks: ‘We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.’ In this first sentence Louise Erdrich has managed to set the sombre mood perfectly by using the setting to help set the tone and atmosphere. This technique can work really well with the show don’t tell principle, as the sentence has given its readers an insight to what is to come.

Another suggestion could also be to revise what you like to read yourself. If you love a particular author like Lee Child or John Grisham, look at how they start their first lines. How did they interest you? Why did you want to read on? This technique also works if you are wanting to write a blog post or newsletter. If you follow several blogs, which article did you really enjoy and how did it start?

Once you have tried a few of these techniques, reflect on your work and see if any of them work for you. Remember the best way to get your writing noticed is to make your writing the best it can possibly be.

Follow me on Instagram @cbarkerwriting for writing tips on a daily basis.

Why So Many Writers Struggle With Character Development

I used to think I knew how to develop my characters. Writing character profiles was the way to do it. Before I would begin writing, I knew what my characters looked like, their hobbies, where they lived – I even knew their favourite food. However after reflecting on these profiles, I cannot help but ask, how have these profiles helped me? In all honestly – they didn’t. Not only was I stuck with two-dimensional characters, I had also sucked all of the fun out of my writing.

E.L Doctorow describes writing as, ‘it’s like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ What struck me the most about this advice is how it appeals to character development. By completing character profiles in-depth, I knew the full route of my novel which in turn, made it seem boring. It has been suggested that to understand how your characters will react to certain events, they must be placed directly into them. How else would we know if our characters are truly brave? It is for this reason that I believe that only when we have finished writing a novel, that we gain a stronger understanding of our characters.

Sometimes when we really search deep for our characters, it can leave the writer vulnerable and open to criticism. It could therefore be argued that as a writer, we know how in-depth we need to be but scarcely do it out of fear of failure. Remember writers, ‘failure is the ingredient you have to have,’ argues Howard Jacobson and rightly so. How else would we know if our writing is good or bad? We need to be able to push past the failures in order to achieve success.

Judy Blume explains how significant a character is to a plot as they are inseparable. ‘Without a clear sense of who a character is […] the reader will be unable to appreciate the significance of your events, and your story will have no impact.’ With the understanding of how important characterisation is, it is no wonder that writers may struggle to leave themselves vulnerable on the page. It is however something that we all must do to develop our writing. So next time you find yourself feeling vulnerable within your writing, remind yourself that you’re growing as a writer.

The Turn of The Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, Vintage, paperback, 340 pages, £6.99, Waterstones

Their dream house will become her worst nightmare…

Their Dream will become her worst nightmare-2

The Turn of the Key is Ruth Ware’s latest novel set in the Scottish Highlands. Ruth Ware’s most recent novel is instantly familiar to her other novels as its presence and ending continues to pack a punch.

The Turn of the Key begins it’s journey similar to Ware’s previous novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, as it begins with the main character explaining how she ended up in her current predicament. The novel begins with a job advert about a current nannying role and the main character jumps at the chance. However has the nanny potentially bit off more than she can chew?

Structure

The structure of this novel is very important to point out as it’s not the standard structure you would expect a novel to take. The Turn of the Key begins with the main character writing a letter to a barrister about her recent experiences at Heatherbrae House. The reader can instantly acknowledge that something has happened that they are not aware of, however it is clearly evident that the main character will explain everything in the letters to come. This already gives the reader a sense of intrigue as the reader begins to question whether they can be convinced of the main character’s situation. As the novel progresses the main character makes several points referring back to the prison and demonstrates an interesting narrative style. This in turn reminds the reader to be on edge and to trust no one.

Pace

The pace of this novel is very interesting as there are many subtle elements to be aware of.  Since the narrative keeps referring back to the main characters’s situation, the subtle elements become even more questioning and as a result keep the reader engaged and intrigued. I must warn the readers however to brace yourself in the last hundred pages as it can feel as if you are in a tornado. As the pace and tension begins to build, so does the plot twists. So much so that it feels as if poison ivy is twisting around each scene, making the reader feel glued to the page.

Characters

Each character in this novel seems carefully considered. This novel has three children and one teenager in the heart of the story and how each child reacts and adapts to the new nanny and scenarios they are put in is really realistic. All of the characters are relatable to some extent and the Scottish characters, Jean and Jack, have been written brilliantly. Ruth has not only created characters that are relatable but has also managed to get their dialects right too. I have relatives that currently reside in Edinburgh and when I listen to Jean and Jack talk, even when in Carn bridge, they all sound authentically Scottish. Nothing is thrown in to make the characters seem obviously Scottish but the subtle differences within their language and word choice, highlights exactly where they are in the UK.

Influences

I cannot ignore that there appears to be a potential influence from Alnwick Garden, which again can be seen through the potential location and some of the ‘facilities’ that Alnwick Garden has to offer. Once you begin to read this novel you will begin to see the connection emerge.

Their Dream will become her worst nightmare

Similar novels

Interestingly The Turn of the Key, reminds me of two of Ware’s previous novels, In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Death of Mrs.Westaway. The narrative structure in Ware’s current novel is similar to In a Dark, Dark Wood whereas the ghostly and haunting aspect of a manor house in The Death of Mrs. Westaway, mirrors the more contemporary isolated house of The Turn of the Key. Interestingly when considering the technology that is seen within this novel, I cannot help to compare the house setting of a similar feel to The Girl Before by JP Delaney. Both of these novels make the reader have to get to grips with technology fast, whilst self-policing in the process. Another book that identifies technology as a great driving force is George Orwell’s 1984, as the quote ‘Who controls the past controls the future,’ fits perfectly with Ruth Ware’s most recent novel.

If you find psychological thrillers gripping and enticing then this book is for you. I personally find self-policing an interesting topic and was unaware that this was considered in the book before reading. I personally love how Ruth Ware’s endings always seem satisfying and as soon as I picked the book up, I knew I would enjoy it. I throughly hope that The Turn of the Key has the same effect on you.

You can buy Ruth Ware’s latest novel The Turn of the Key here.