May 31st, 2019

Grab 'Em, Keep 'em, Bring 'Em Back

Laurie Schnebly

Why do the first 10% and the last 10% of your book deserve far more than attention than what you give the remaining 80% of the story? That doesn’t seem fair.

Especially when we look at those lucky writers who are continuing various series which already have millions of fans. THEY don’t need to worry about making their next opening and closing incredibly wonderful!

Nope, drat it, that task is solely for authors who want to grab brand new readers from the very first paragraph of a book -- and then leave 'em so satisfied with the ending that they’ll immediately buy whatever this author writes next.

Boffo beginnings are the most effective way of ensuring that anyone who glances at page 1 will keep reading…and reading…and reading.

What else keeps them reading?

Sure, they might ALSO continue through the story if their best friend insisted “you’re gonna love this book even though it seems kind of dull at first.”

Or if the cover model looks so much like their dream hero that they’ve got to see what happens.

Or if they’re stuck on a six-hour flight and have already finished their only other reading materials.

But why go after readers like those? It’s better if you can get their best friend insisting, “I couldn’t put it down,” because that way they’ll keep reading no matter how short the flight is or how uninspiring the cover model might be.

Regardless of what got a reader started on your book, it’s ideal to have someone take in the first sentence

…then the first paragraph…and immediately want to keep going.

That means you’ve grabbed 'em. You’ve found the right answers to questions like:

  • Which is more entertaining, dialogue or narrative?
  • Which is more engrossing, action or emotion?
  • Which is more engaging, characters or situation?

You probably already know what works best for drawing YOU into a story you want to keep reading…or writing.

How can you build on that interest and make it even more compelling?

Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a boffo beginning.

Think about the books whose opening you still remember vividly.

It’s surprising how often people can quote the first line of something they read years ago, and yet how seldom they can describe an entire opening scene.

Yet it’s the first scene, not the first line, which will keep your readers moving onto Chapter Two.

So what does your first scene need to do?

  • Tell the readers what’s going on, or just give them a hint?
  • Put us right in the viewpoint of a major character, or open with a secondary character in a more dramatic situation?
  • Reveal what’s at stake now, or save that news for when the character learns it?

And once the main character/s and their plot are introduced, you’re still not finished with the beginning. In order to make sure the reader won’t turn away once they’ve reached the first scene break, you need to establish:

  • What kind of action we can expect
  • What kind of emotion we can expect
  • What the overall tone will be like
  • How much dialogue and description there’ll be

And, most important of all:

Why these characters will stay interesting

  • Is it their mission / goal?
  • Is it their personality / motivation?
  • Is it their situation / conflict?
  • Is it all three?

Your blend will be different, of course, depending on the story you’re writing. Your audience will have its own expectations, and they need to feel confident you can deliver the kind of experience they wanted when they picked up your novel.

That’ll be your job throughout the next 80% of the book, which -- although it’s what keeps 'em reading -- doesn’t count as part of your opening or your closing.

But speaking of closing, let’s move onto the fabulous finale.

Are you keeping the promise of the beginning?

That’s only the first question to address, but it’s a big one. The reader who picked up your book might have had some generic expectation of “a cozy mystery” or “a historical romance” when they opened to page 1, but your beginning promised a lot more than that.

It promised a certain level of tension, from relaxing to nail-biting.

It promised a story that would keep this reader engrossed all the way through.

It promised some compelling twists and turns, whether gentle or abrupt, before the final chapter.

It promised a world that the reader would enjoy discovering more of, whether the setting is comfortably familiar or excitingly different.

And it promised a style of story telling that resonated with this person -- something they already know they love, or something that has them anticipating a whole new discovery.

You delivered all of that with your beginning.

So you need to deliver it with the ending, as well -- plus whipped cream and a cherry on top.

There are tricks for accomplishing that, both in your opening and closing. But rather than get into a whole two weeks of material, let’s look at the openings and closings you’ve liked especially well.

Because that’s the prize-drawing question.

Someone who sends in a description of whatever made some book’s first or final words (whether a sentence or an entire scene) resonate with them will win free registration to Boffo Beginnings & Fab Finales at WriterUniv.com, starting a week from Monday.

So here’s your chance to share with other WITS readers:

What comes to mind when you think of a story whose opening you loved?

What ending made you want to read every single other book this author has ever written?

I’ll draw names from the next 24 hours’ worth of comments (even if you can’t decide on your favorite beginning or ending) so I can notify the winner tomorrow morning.

And I’ll look forward to hearing the names of some old favorite books along with some new TBRs!

After winning Romantic Times' "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing…if not more. Since then she's taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who've developed that particular novel in her classes. With 43 titles there so far, she's always hoping for more.

85 responses to “Grab 'Em, Keep 'em, Bring 'Em Back”

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Love beginnings and endings, Laurie! My faves are all Pat Conroy. These are the beginning and end of Beach Music:

    'In 1980, a year after my wife leapt to her death from the Silas Pearlman Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina I moved to Italy to begin life anew, taking our small daughter with me. '

    How could you not read on? Here's the end:

    'I knew that Shyla was waiting for me, biding her time looking forward to the dance that would last forever, in a house somewhere beneath the great bright sea.'

    RIP, Pat.

  2. Terry Odell says:

    From one of the few book club choices I actually enjoyed - Andy Weir's "The Martian."

    First line: "I'm pretty much fucked."

    Closing lines: "If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side."

    • Terry, I had to laugh at your line about "one of the few book club recommendations I actually enjoyed" -- isn't it nice when the group picks a winner? And that one sure is; I never would've picked it up based on the title, but now that opening & closing have me heading out to find it.

    • Terri, don't think I'm ignoring you -- the earlier response from my other computer is held up somewhere, but it should be coming any hour now!

    • Kathleen says:

      Wow. Beautifully bookended by this opening and closing.

      • Kathleen, I'm sorry I missed you earlier today -- and delighted you liked the opening & closing! Bookends are an intriguing premise; we get into those during the class but it's an especially fun challenge to see if the very beginning and very end of the book can match in some way. Which, hmm, might have been another fun thing to request examples for. 🙂

  3. Amanda H. says:

    "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."

    First line of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

  4. One of my favorite reads, Water for Elephants:

    "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other."

    "So what if I'm ninety-three. So what if I'm ancient and cranky and my body's a wreck? If they're willing to accept me and my guilty conscience, why the hell shouldn't I run away with the circus?

    It's like Charlie told the cop. For this old man, this is home."

    I've read that John Irving always writes the first and last sentence before writing his novels.

  5. Laurel Greer says:

    The only ending where I can still quote the actual line is from Tiana Warner's YA adventure novel (1st in a series) Ice Massacre: "I was in love with a mermaid." Which, of course, was the realization that the reader wanted the main character to have throughout the novel, and it sets up the conflict for the next two books (the character in love is a human!)

  6. Laurel, that IS a grabber! Is it a surprising discovery to the reader as well as to the character, or has the suspense been "when will the character figure it out?" Either way, what a great setup to the rest of the series. 🙂

  7. One of my favorite books is A Sky Full of Miracles by Kim Cates.

    First line: "Ariel believed in magic--Easter bunnies, the tooth fairy and the spirits that visited Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve."

    Last: "Miracles are what you're best at, Ariel. No one knows that better than me."

    I always struggle to give the reader an "aww" moment for my last sentence.

  8. It’s so true. I’m notorious when looking for a new read to stand and read the first page to see if I’ll like the book. It’s like speed dating. Are our styles compatible, is this someone I want to spend hours of my free time with, etc?

    The only book I can remember the first and last line to is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone by JK Rowling first line, "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Last line, “I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”

    Thanks again for such a thought provoking post!!!

    • Margie, what a fabulous example about speed dating -- you're absolutely right; it IS like deciding whether this person is someone you'll want to spend time with. And it seems like an even bigger decision when choosing a book than a movie, maybe because we know that in a book we're gonna be responsible for more of the interaction...envisioning the story for ourselves. Fascinating!

  9. Great post, Laurie! I'm going to look up the beginnings and endings on some of my favorite stories right now. 🙂

    • LeAnne, what a fun project -- there's nothing like going through favorite books when you're not actually choosing which one to read, but rather just sampling a taste of each one. Kind of like grazing at some enormous buffet, and all the better because every single item on the table is calorie-free. 🙂

  10. Oh my goodness, I can't remember the first line of the books "I" write and certainly none of the first lines of the thousands of books I read!!! But...what catches my attention when I start reading a book and keeps my attention is usually dialogue that is catchy and gives me the feeling of what to expect throughout the rest of the book as far as tone is concerned. Though I read Danielle Steel's books and there's not much dialogue at all in her first chapters. I don't need an incredible ending either, just satisfyingly wrapped up. And it doesn't have to be "happy" satisfying, just an understandable conclusion that makes sense with everything that came beforehand.
    Now that I'm writing this, it's quite obvious that every reader is going to have a particular reason for liking a book and those reasons are going to be as varied as the people themselves!

    • Patti, you're absolutely right about the many different reasons for liking a book! And there's SO much more to the opening and closing than just the first and last lines...there's dialogue, like you mentioned, and narrative covering various things that matter to different readers, setting, tension, situation, character, conflict, you name it.

      All the way to the resolution that leaves 'em thinking "yep, I'm glad i read this book." 🙂

  11. Natalie J. Damschroder says:

    I don't have the lines handy, but I think Darynda Jones' First Grave on the Right was one that grabbed me. I know her voice did, and she opens each chapter with hilarious epigraphs. And a book that made me hungry for the next one was one of the Urban Shaman books by CE Murphy, the one where Michael (I think that's his name, it's been a while) shows up in her car in dramatic fashion, after she has saved the day.

    • Natalie, it's a good illustration of grabber openings that while the lines per se didn't stick with you, something else DID. Voice, humor and drama are all winners...and now you've got me curious about Darynda Jones AND CE Murphy!

  12. Meg says:

    I loved "Call me Ishmael", of course, from Moby Dick. Similar to that opening line was "One thing for sure, he wasn't going to let them get away with it again." Unfortunately, I don't remember which book that opened, and the book itself wasn't all that memorable. I just love openings that pull you right into the action by assuming you're already in it.

    • Meg, the Ishmael line was another one I thought about using for the illustrations here -- the only reason it didn't make the cut was because visually, three words didn't look as good. And you actually got me Googling that other opening line, which (drat it) didn't yield a book. But if I ever come across it, I'll know I'm in for a great read. 🙂

    • Fran, I had that same reaction to the Harry Potter series...how could it be anything I'd enjoy? But, just like with Hunger Games and Twilight and others that drew huge acclaim, I figured I'd better give it a shot and was amazed. Good point about the ending, because anytime you feel like an author's failed to deliver the kind of read you want it's smart to avoid another disappointment!

  13. Fran Colley says:

    You used one of my favorite beginnings: Mr & Mrs Dursley of Number 4 Privet Drive... I didn't want to read the Harry Potter series--a book about an 11 year old boy? A FANTASY series? (I didn't do fantasy, unless you count romance novels with HEAs.) But I was on a bad date--and this was the movie chosen--and I was immediately gripped. So I went and found the books and was immediately turned into a "books are so much better than the movie, though the movie is awesome." I'm trying to think of a book ending where I was very much: I'm going to read every single thing by this author. I think I'm more drawn by great openings than great endings--you know? I'll flip open a book I'm not sure about and read the first line, first paragraph--and if it's intriguing enough, I'll buy it. But I don't flip to the back of a book and read the ending to make sure I'll want to buy it. (Unless it's a Nicholas Sparks book, in an effort to figure out who dies. To be honest, I don't buy/read NS because I don't want to read about someone who is going to end up dead.) AND I've been eyeing your new class about boffo beginnings...and wanting to sign up.

  14. Heather Jackson says:

    I'm a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft who never wrote a full novel (to my knowledge), but who had some chilling endings in his short stories. Here are my favorite opening line and favorite closing line from his work.

    Opening from "The Thing on the Doorstep":

    "It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer."

    Closing from "Pickman's Model": (The story is about a friend of the main character who paints impressively horrible pictures. He's in the badly-lit sub-cellar of a house in a forgotten part of town that his friend is using as a studio.)

    "Well - that paper wasn't a photograph of any background after all. What it showed was simply the monstrous being he was painting on that awful canvas. It was the model he was using - and its background was merely the wall of the cellar studio in minute detail. But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life."

    • Wow, Heather, you're so right about the "chilling" factor -- I sure wouldn't want to be reading H.P. Lovecraft alone in a remote cabin! And yet the opening does draw me in with the promise of an interesting story told by a potentially unreliable narrator, which means he's done his job beautifully.

  15. I can't think of the lines, there are so many, but I read Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey and fell in love with her work. I read everything she wrote. That same 'something' made me read every historical Julie Garwood ever wrote, too.

    • Cindy, it sounds like both those writers have a voice that resonates with you...and, having read your work, I see why! I think we all gravitate to the authors whose storytelling reflects our own -- and when that's the case, it doesn't matter HOW good (or occasionally medioctre) their opening and/or closing is; any book of theirs is gonna be a must-read. 🙂

  16. For me, if a beginning is thoughtful, that is if a comment or description magically aligns with thoughts or observations I've had, my heart jumps with joy ... I'm going in with excitement! This typically seems to be a function of genre however, The dramatic entrance or perilous situation feels manipulative to me - like the fisherman flycasting out his book - forced and commercial. My favorite would be fabulous twist endings. Ahhh if I could master that technique! Perhaps the most not so recent example would be Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. It's a great video as well and I would easily recommend it!

    • Nancy, what a great line about openings that WORK for you: "if a comment or description magically aligns with thoughts or observations I've had" says it beautifully. How can anyone resist a person whose outlook on life lines up with their own, especially when it's something more specific than "gee, we both love chocolate"? 🙂

    • Laura Drake says:

      Nancy, have you read Kimberly Belle? Right up your alley!

  17. Janet Ch. says:

    Hi Laurie,
    What a great idea for a writing
    course.

    I love this opening: 'Marley was dead, to begin with.' Such a great hook. (Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol)

    And how about this one from my book shelf --the opening lines to a vintage Harlequin Cherish/Special Edition.

    "Not even Kenny could be this late to his own wedding.
    Could he?
    Lucy Velardi dropped her last two quarters into the courthouse pay phone and punched in the number they'd shared for the past five weeks. It was silly to be nervous when he'd probably just missed his flight back to Scottdale. If she hadn't left the house early to pick up her dress--a dress that revealed no sign of the reason for this marriage ---he would have called to let her know.
    Wouldn't he? "

    It raises questions, gives a sense of unease, and best of all gives a great feel for the character 'voice' I think it's probably voice that readers are mostly looking for in the opening lines (?)

    • Janet, you chose some wonderful examples there. A Christmas Carol gets extra credit for having a fabulous opening AND closing line, and Her Brother's Baby gets extra credit for being my own...I'm honored that you remembered that book well enough to think of it now; thank you!

  18. Great post. I'm writing a cozy mystery and actually have a prologue, I wouldn't normally do this, but it's needed to set the stage and thankfully, most my readers (crit people who write cozy's) agree. So we'll see if it does all you've mentioned above.

    This post is a great reminder and I've loved reading the excerpts people have sent in.
    Hugs, L.A. Sartor

    • L.A., a prologue can be every bit as effective a place to deliver a good opening as Chapter One -- all the reader cares about it is "how's this book starting out?" And the fact that your genre-loving readers feel like this is the way to go is all the more reason to choose such an opening...gotta love getting feedback from people who KNOW. 🙂

  19. Debora Dale says:

    At age 12, I read Phyllis A. Whitney’s “The Turquoise Mask” in one sitting. From word one, I could not put it down. I still love the book but am not as drawn in by the opening as I was all those years ago.

    Her opening line:
    I had set my ‘arguments’ out carefully on my drawing table.
    -
    I can see my young self sensing the confidence and organization of this speaker, knowing she'd be a strong narrator for this story, while also feeling the intrigue of what arguments she’d have to present. All these years later, though, I needed the full first paragraph to draw me back in.

    By contrast, this from Nora Roberts’ “Dark Witch (Book 1 of the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy) sucked me in before the first line - with the date – though the first line certainly set the tone of the story for me, and kept me intrigued:

    Winter 1263
    Near the shadow of the castle, deep in the green woods, Sorcha led her children through the gloom toward home.
    -
    (Now I want to reread this trilogy!)

    -Debbie

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I loved that Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy! Now I want to go back and re-read it. So many books, so little time!! 🙂

    • Debbie, wow, I remember the elation of discovering Phyllis Whitney in junior high -- her big title at my school was "The Winter People" -- and now you've got me wanting to go back and read her again. And it's intriguing to wonder whether people who cut their (reading) teeth on her all wound up loving Nora Roberts as adults...that sure sounds possible!

  20. Jenny Hansen says:

    Laurie, I just approved NINE comments! Some were yours but many were not, so you might want to take one pass from the top.

    What a lovely post you have given us...thank you!!!

    • Oh, Jenny, you're welcome -- thanks for the tip to go back to the top! And it's a relief to head out to lunch knowing that everything's caught up for now...although I already know I'm gonna spend way more time remembering great books than during a usual lunch. 🙂

  21. Steph Bochenek says:

    Hi, Laurie. This is so fun. My opening is from Jennifer Crusie's Fast Women. "The man behind the cluttered desk looked like the devil, and Nell Dysart felt like that was par for her course since she'd been going to hell for the last year and a half anyway. Meeting Gabriel McKenna just meant she'd arrived." Jenny's books are filed with snark and emotion and great characters.

    • Steph, I see why you chose Jennifer Crusie -- your books have that same kind of snark and emotion and great characters! And it's funny, I was looking at her "Tell Me Lies" to illustrate a point in the class...because she sure does know how to entice people into a story.

  22. Stacy McKitrick says:

    Don't remember any beginnings or endings to books I loved to read. I do have lots of favorite authors and I guess it's because I like their voice (and the story) that keeps me coming back. Although, I've read some books that leave me hanging (cliff hangars) and regardless of how much I might have enjoyed the book up until the ending, I usually do NOT read that author again. I don't like being tricked that way.

    • Stacy, I agree with you on the cliffhangers! It always makes me think of that "Fool me once" saying...and the only reason I read the third Girl With The Dragon Tattoo book is because a friend had lent me #2 and #3 both at once, so the #2 cliffhanger wasn't as horrendous as it would've been otherwise. A GOOD ending can still keep readers wondering what's next without the starkness of a cliffhanger!

  23. Beth H. says:

    Laurie,
    One opening line that surprised me and made me want to hear more is from Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach (the book was read to us in elementary school). "Until he was four years old, James Henry Trotter had had a happy life."
    I wasn't expecting to learn that his happy life stopped when he was only FOUR! The following paragraphs made me laugh, and I immediately loved Dahl's sense of humor. On the death of James' parents - "Both of them suddenly got eaten up....by an enormous angry rhinoceros...." And Dahl is quick to point out that his parents didn't suffer long - "They were dead and gone in thirty-five seconds flat."
    Both shocking and hysterical in his bluntness. Dahl grabbed me and didn't let go. That book is still one of my favorites.

    Beth H.

    • Beth, this is the first time I've ever thought I might be missing something by not having read James and the Giant Peach -- somehow I'd gotten the idea it was a sad book, but when it's told with the kind of humor you're describing that's a whole different ballgame. And how cool that you've loved that story ever since elementary school. 🙂

  24. LAUREL DENNIS says:

    A classic mystery, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for opening and ending with a twist. opening, "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again." Nothing better than a mystery with an unexpected twist, never goes out of style.

    • Laurie, I wish I'd thought of Rebecca when searching for good openings to use in the illustrations -- that's a classic, and Daphne DuMaurier deserves extra credit for her twists. Her "House on the Strand" still ranks as my favorite book about what it's like to be a writer...it's just amazing how well she describes things. Thanks for a great memory!

  25. Michael Mock says:

    Hm. Martha Wells' City of Bones is a standalone fantasy novel that ends with the djinn apocalypse averted, but in a way that means that the two main characters (who have been slow-building from unwilling allies to friends) are not able to connect romantically. It should be disappointing - I mean, as a reader I watched them get to know each other and even come to like each other - but it *fits* the way things turned out so well that I really couldn't complain.

    That was the book that started me reading her work, a decision I've never regretted. (I've spent the last year or so recommending The Murderbot Diaries to anyone who wanders into range, so... Yeah. Good stuff.) The Murderbot Diaries (and in particular the first one, All Systems Red) also do a lovely job of hooking the reader with both the beginning and ending, and in between is basically a master class on the use of Voice in writing.

    • Michael, you have a great point about an ending that doesn't necessarily deliver what the reader dreamed of BUT that feels innately satisfying because it's such a cohesive part of the overall story that something more traditionally happy just wouldn't seem right. Writers who can do that are exceptionally good at their craft, which says a lot about Martha Wells!

  26. Ruth Dell says:

    Thank you for another stimulating blog post, Laurie.

    The beginning sentence of “Back When We Were Grownups” by Anne Tyler has me totally hooked- “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she turned into the wrong person.” I love this opening because it’s unusual, and it raises so many questions that I just have to keep reading to find some answers. Eg who had she turned into? why did this happen?,who did she think she should be? What will she do about? How did she discover this?

    • Ruth, you're right, that IS a grabber. "Once upon a time" always promises a good story, and when the rest of the sentence is intriguing in its own right that becomes a winning combination. Being able to raise questions about the story in a single line is a real art, and Anne Tyler sure qualifies as an artist.

  27. Laurie, I love, love all of your blog posts. I've told you before that I learn so much. I find openings easier than closings. Maybe I hate to tell characters good-bye. Or...maybe it's hard to end a story.

    • Roz, it makes sense that openings are easier because there are so many ways you could take the story -- once it's been written, the options for ending aren't QUITE as unlimited. 🙂 And having to tell characters goodbye on top of all that is hard, for sure...I remember coming home from work one weekend, telling Pete "I finished the book," and bursting into tears.

  28. lindaf5775 says:

    Laurie, your blog posts always teach me so much, just like your classes (the posts are mini-classes!). I admit, as a writer openings and closings drive me crazy, but as a reader, I admit they're the key to hooking me. I always read the first page and the last page (cue everyone's look of horror) before I'll buy a book.

    The same author caught me with the beginning and ending of the first book I ever read by her, when I was 8 or 10 years old. And 50-some years later, her books still draw me in no matter how many times I've read them. Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series of children's and young adult books instantly transported me to an early-1900s world I wanted to live in after just a couple of paragraphs, and the ending sent me right back to the library for the next book. I think because she based the books on her own life in turn-of-the-century Minnesota, she was able to make the setting and the characters just jump to life. All these years later, she's still my favorite author.

    • Linda, what fun to meet another Maud Hart Lovelace fan! Just a few years ago my sister found the YA ones as a packaged set at Amazon, and we had a binge-reading...and while I sure can't remember the first and last line of EACH Betsy-Tacy book, there sure were a lot of winners in there. Great memories. 🙂

  29. Julie Glover says:

    I'm fascinated by great beginnings, perhaps because I now know, being a writer, how hard that opening is to nail! But when it comes to endings, I recall being wowed so much by the conclusion of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that I went on an Agatha Christie reading spree. Yep, those bookends matter so much. Thanks for highlighting them!

    • Julie, wasn't Roger Ackroyd a stunner? I think that's the only one she did with quite the same impact, probably because it'd be hard to get away with more than once, but it's so cool how authors today are STILL milking the unreliable-narrator theme...and, as best I can tell, Dame Agatha gets all the credit for that!

  30. Stacy Graunke says:

    I love Patricia Gibney's series so much that I've started over. I'm kinna sad she only has the six books (that I know of) out there. But I'm looking forward to more!!

    • Stacy, you're the first person I've ever heard mention Patricia Gibney -- so now, with six books already in her series, I love knowing I can dive into a wealth of good reading there. And, gosh, just a quick Google glance and I can tell they're gonna be nail-biters...good to save for cheerful summer afternoons instead of dark winter nights. 🙂

  31. Amanda Pumilia says:

    These sound like great classes! I think my favorite ending must have been from the first book I read by my favorite author, Julie Garwood, because I ended up buying it in an airport and loving it so much I read the rest! But, I also really love that A Christmas Carol one. It's weird I could never get into a lot of Dickens' other books though. 🙂

    • Amanda, talk about a small world -- this class is the result of a recommendation from your mom! Last year I asked my newsletter readers what topics people would like to know more about, and I forget whether she mentioned Beginnings or Finales, but putting that with another writer's request yielded Boffo-Fab. And if you get a chance, I recommend a movie called The Man Who Invented Christmas...I'll bet you can guess who Christopher Plummer plays.

  32. Iola says:

    I read a blog post this week on why your first line really isn't that important ... and had to restrain myself from commenting because it is SO important! I participate in a meme called First Line Friday, and we will not discuss how many books I've purchased on the strength of their first line as a result of that weekly meme.

    so what's my favourite first line? There's the classic Pride & Prejudice. Persuasion (where the first line basically summarises the entire plot). The Martian. Harry Potter.

    Here's a recent favourite, from Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass by Heather Day Gilbert:

    "The first time I saw Stone Carrington the fifth, I had a snake wrapped around my neck."

    That certainly kept me reading!.

    • Iola, that First Line Friday sounds like SUCH a great meme! And it's hard to imagine a better counter to the premise that first lines don't matter that much...because while it's true that many a best-seller has opened with a line no fan can remember, a first line that people CAN remember long enough to go order (and, better yet, read & recommend) the book can make an enormous difference in the life of a story. 🙂

  33. Sarah Andre says:

    As always, I love your words of wisdom, Laurie!
    The consistent beginnings that stick with me are anything by Kristan Higgins, Darynda Jones (both romcom) and for gritty intrigue: Karin Slaughter.

    • Sarah, you're so right about Kristan Higgins -- isn't she amazing? And now that you're the second person to mention Darynda Jones, I'm all the more interested in checking her out as well. When it comes to gritty suspense, I know I can trust any recommendation from you...so now Karin Slaughter is going on my list, too!

  34. Sharon says:

    Laurie, you always get me thinking. I love your posts because you get to the nub of the topic and show so many examples that we get it! Thanks for being such a great teacher. Sorry I found this link too late to enter. Next time!

    • Sharon, I'm so glad you liked the examples -- and I feel bad about the drawing happening too early; I should've realized it might take time for the posts that arrived overnight or early today to get moderated. So I'm gonna do another drawing tonight, and whoever wins that will have you to thank for it. 🙂

  35. Wow, talk about a bunch of great responses -- thank you to everyone who's brought up so many good points about boffo beginnings & fab finales, not to mention all kinds of recommendations I'm looking forward to checking out.

    And this is a bizarre month over at random-dot-org, because last Friday I fed in the numbers for an end-of-class prize drawing and it chose the very first one as my winner. Then just now, I fed in the numbers for this blog's prize drawing and it chose the very last one...which means congratulations go to Iola!

    Just email me at Book Laurie at gmail com with the address where to send your invitation...or if the June 10-21 class at https://writeruniv.wordpress.com/classes/ doesn't fit your schedule, feel free to send me a friend's address instead. 🙂

    Laurie, who'll check back for later posts and can't wait to see Ane, Aubri, Audra, Calvin, Carol, Cathy, Christine, Dee Ann, Don, Ginger, Iola, Justene, Karen, Kim, Kris, Krishna, Lisa, Natalie, Patti, Sarah, Steph, Susan, Suzanne, Tracey, Varina and whoever else joins next week!

  36. When I think of beginning and ending lines, I think of two classics. F. Scott Fitzgerald's beginning line in The Rich Boy: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." Teases us into reading his short story about the blessings and curses of having money from the cradle to the grave. And then, there's Margaret Mitchell's last line in Gone with the Wind. "After all, tomorrow is another day.” Fitzgerald writing his short story in Paris where he admitted he spent a thousand days partying and Margaret Mitchell toiling away on her classic (and only full length book) in a hot room in Atlanta, GA. He gives us a warning. She leaves us with what sounds like optimism. However, she did everything wrong. Described Scarlett's looks in the first sentence and completely ignored the HEA. Laurie, lead us to write the perfect novel. Thanks, even if we're too hard-headed to get it right. Maybe we don't have to.

    • Nita, talk about a wonderful conclusion -- I love "get it right. Maybe we don't have to." You're absolutely right on target, and the Fitzgerald and Michell books are perfect proof. It's cool, too, knowing where that line about the rich being different came from...I've heard it for years, but never could've told you where it came from. Thanks!

  37. Okay, as promised earlier, I did one more drawing to allow entries for the people whose comments hadn't arrived when I did this morning's -- and the winner of THAT one, again for free registration to https://writeruniv.wordpress.com/classes/craft-class-boffo-beginnings-fab-finales/, is #26.

    Congratulations to Ruth Dell, and just contact me at Book Laurie gmail com with your email address so I can send you (or the friend of your choice) an invitation to the June 10-21 group!

    Laurie, just back from Phoenix Symphony Celebrates Broadway and loving how they credited the authors of Broadway-musical source material at the very end...yay, writers 🙂

  38. dholcomb1 says:

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” from Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

    denise

  39. […] Getting started can sometimes be the hardest part. Mary Kole discusses choosing your main character, Nathan Bransford shows how to outline a novel, A. Howitt explores beginnings, and Laurie Schnebly explains how to make the first scene grab and keep your readers. […]

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