Plus as a new writer, you hear so much about the need to hook the reader, to get them involved immediately in the story. But you know what I've found. It's not so much the first line, it's that first scene. It's like I said in my last post on the subject (see here), it's not so much that first line, it's the first scene, the writer's library and stock pile of good will with the reader, and the overall writing in general. A well written book will overcome a shotty first line. A back ground of great books will provide a lot of credibility to overcome a boring first line.
In terms of my own first lines, I have mixed reviews (see here). I'm happier with On the Edge in general than I am with Toe the Line, but I think the first line for On the Edge, and the opening scene is weaker than Toe the Line.
There is a specific fear, a state of panic really, that takes root within most people, parents particularly when they first discover that they've lost track of their child. It's the moment when a father loses sight of his son in a crowded food court, the second or two when a mother realizes that the little hand that belongs to her daughter that was holding her hand is no longer there. A flush of extreme anxiety with undertones of foreboding follow that first moment and are quickly replaced by hope. Hope that as the crowd parts he will see his son, or she will feel the little fingers reach up and wrap around her hand again. When that doesn't happen the panic becomes terror. My terror began half way into my Monday, six mile run. It was Georgia I missed first.
The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the protagonist finding what happened to Georgia.
In Toe the Line, the first line is reminiscent of Max Shulman and his "Bang bang bang bang" opening (see here).
"Go to hell, Wheeler." As last words go they were hardly what one would call poignant.
Sadly, I don't think that either first line would land on any lists of "Great First Lines" nor even on "Good First Lines." More sadly is the fact that I don't have a library of goodwill built up with my "fan club." All I have, I hope, is decent writing in one of the books and passable writing in the other. To say it precisely I have the following reviews. For On the Edge I received a review that stated:
Dick Hannah has created one fantastic novel. Simply put- I love it. There were a lot of plates spinning & he didn't drop any. What I'd thought would be a simple mystery novel became multiple novels in one: family drama, thriller, a little romance, inspirational- you name it! Fingers are crossed for a sequel. Five stars straight through- brilliant!
For Toe the Line the most scathing review stated:
When I read the synopsis this sounded like my kind of book, intriguing plot with a mystery to be solved. While the book did have these characteristics, at times I felt like I was reading an assignment in a high school English class. The scenery that Mr. Hannah created with his use of imagery was amazing. I felt as though I was in the Pacific Northwest as I read the book. His character development was scattered, at best. I agree with the other reviewer, in that Wynn drove me crazy! His character had much potential but his obsession with triathlons became quite old quickly. He lacked depth and was flat, whereas his ex-fiancee's character was fiery. The extreme personalities frustrated me several times throughout the story. Also, a few of the secondary characters could have been developed more. It would have provided the insight needed for the conclusion. I felt the premise of the story was good; I wish Mr. Hannah had expanded his storyline. He only touched the surface of what could have been a 5 star novel.
Yikes, right? So again, no credibility provided through Toe the Line. But regarding that first line stuff, see this review:
When I read the first page I was hooked. Usually, if I can't get into a book by the third page then I know I'm not going to get into it at all. 'Toe The Line' was an exceptional read right through to the end. At one point I THOUGHT I had well and truly nabbed the murderer, but then it twisted so I was caught off guard - which stunned me because I can usually catch the killer before the story ends (hence I was a bit cross with myself but pleased for Mr Hannah for making me as the reader think differently).
So, like I said, a great first line isn't the end all beat all by any means. It can help, but mostly it's great writing that's going to get the writer over the hump of readers acceptance and love for the work. What have I learned? First, although the first line and first scene are important for my next work, Vapor Trail, it's not what's going to win the battle. Taking that "writing is a road march" idea from several weeks ago (see here) it reminds me of a thirty-miler that we took in Fort Ord, California. We had a briefing the night before and one of of the more senior squad leaders talked about the importance of keeping your feet dry and clean, . . . fresh socks, good boots, . . . that sort of thing. Then the next morning, bright and early we start off. We are winding our way through some foot hill trails and there's a ford through a stream that stops us cold just a mile or two into the five hour ordeal. Imagine that. A platoon of Spec Ops, Ranger, Paratrooper Bad-Asses stopped in the midst of our thirty-mile mission by a team leader who took the foot hygiene class so seriously that he stopped at a three inch deep puddle from a small stream.
Eventually the platoon sergeant came along, yelled at us all for being ridiculous and strode through that puddle making as many big splashes as he could just to show how much he cared about his own foot care and we were back off. Still, bad start but great content. I'd much rather have that the alternative of a great start with a poor finish. So, for Vapor Trail I'm going to focus on that first line, but more of my focus will be on the work as a whole than just on that first few lines. I have a bit of credibility built up with the readers, no need to undercut that now.
As long as we are talking about my reviews, my favorite has to be this one about On the Edge.
At first I hated Joe and didn't know if I was going to make it through the book. He seemed to be such a douche. But as the story began to unfold, I found that some of the douchery was really his own anxieties taking hold. From that point forward I wanted to learn more about this guy and what makes him tick. The novel is full of twists and turns that keep the reader engaged. The story line is realistic and detailed. I am sure the author's military background made all the difference for me in the flashback scenes. Many times I will gloss over these types of things (military stories just aren't my cup o' tea) but Hannah truly painted a picture with his words that keep me intrigued.
There is a little bit of everything in this book. Suspense. Mystery. A little taste of romance. And pretty deep character development packed into a fairly short novel. It was a really good read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys "who done it?" mystery/thriller books.
As I said before (here) . . . who can't help but love a positive review that includes the term "douchery."