Tag Archives: Writing

First Lines from First to Final Draft

I’m sure we all know the importance of first lines: they’re the first impression, the first chance to hook your reader, the first breath of the baby you’ve labored over for months.

start line

They’re the curtain whipping away from the stage, the gun shot signaling the start of the race, the … you get the idea.

We thought it would be interesting to reveal our first lines over here at the BookYard–from both the first AND final drafts of our debut books. Would our FIRST-first lines stay with us, surviving the firestorm of revision? Or would something completely different take their place?

Ready? Set? Go!

First line of SALT, by Danielle Ellison: 

First draft: “Gran always told us not to leave home without salt in our pocket.”

Final draft (That you can get right now ahh!): “Gran always told us not to leave home without salt in our pocket.”

Comments: Yes, it’s exactly the same! It’s the first/only book I’ve written where the first line/chapter has never changed. But it’s not the same with other stories.

First line of FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS, by Danielle Ellison:

First draft: “I freeze, listening for the echo of a footstep.”

Final draft: “All I’ve ever wanted is freedom, but I never imagined it would be like this.”

Comments: FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS had eight first lines. (One for each draft/rewrite/revision before I sold.) I had a really big problem trying to figure out where the story actually started, because it was such a huge story. I love the new first line now! It’s completely the tone and theme of the book. :)

First line of DREAM BOY, by Mary Crockett and Madelyn Rosenberg:

First draft (or close to first draft): “It was the perfect June evening for the perfect June wedding and my cousin Heather, the perfect bride, was puffed up like a frosted pastry in her wedding gown. The vows had been said, the unity candle lit, and now we were scattered around the reception hall, stuffing our faces with sweet-and-sour chicken and bits of cheese molded into the shape of doves.” (Ok, I know that’s two sentences.)

Final draft: “Will found me by the river.”

Comments: Madelyn and I ended up cutting the first chapter of DREAM BOY in revisions. There are a ton of quirky details in that lost chapter–and we really didn’t want to cut it–but ultimately it was one of those darlings that just needed to die. But if I ever have to write a wedding scene for some future project, you can bet I’m going to try to work in cheese shaped like doves.

First line of GILDED, by Christina Farley:

First draft: “The concrete steps yawn before me and stretch all the way up to the museum.”

Final draft: “Stillness fills the empty stage as I press the horn bow to my body and notch an arrow.”

Comments: Basically, I deleted the whole scene of Jae Hwa walking into the museum with her parents and setting up to practice. For the final draft, not only did I start the story later, but I also ‘killed off’ the mom. The key was tightening so I was only keeping necessary scenes and necessary characters.

First line of WORDLESS, by AdriAnne Strickland:

First draft: “I’d heard the story when I was a kid—everyone had, even wordless nobodies like me.”

Final draft (+ second sentence): “I’d heard the story when I was a kid. Everyone had, even wordless nobodies like me, who had never set foot in any of Eden City’s cathedrals.”

Comments: You’ll notice that not much changed, other than my attempt to reign in some of my em dashes (I’m totally em dash-happy), which then left me room to add more detail in the (now) second sentence.

First line of THE GIRL FROM THE WELL, by Rin Chupeco:

First draft: “I am the paths dead girls travel.”

Final draft: “I am where dead children go.”

Comments: Not only did I decide to go for ambiguity to sound more profound, but also made my protagonist an equal opportunity avenger.

First line of A MURDER OF MAGPIES, by Sarah Bromley:

First draft: “A lone tuft of ash wanders through the air.”

Final draft: “I always swore Jonah would blow our cover, and today looked ideal for a catastrophe.”

Comments: Not only was A MURDER OF MAGPIES originally in present tense, it also had a prologue that took place two years before the bulk of the book. MAGPIES had been put away for a while before I brought it back out after I signed with my agent, and when I ngave it to Miriam, I’d already nixed that prologue and changes tenses from present to past. In the final draft, Vayda’s troubles are more immediate, and she’s not at all happy with her brother, Jonah. But if you look hard enough, you’ll see a version of that first original line somewhere in the book.

First line of BETWEEN SISTERS, by Trisha Leaver: 

First draft: “My phone buzzed across my nightstand, jarring me from the sketch pad I had open across my lap.”

Final draft: “I don’t remember her room being so cold. Even snuggled into her sweater the chill seeps in, settling into my bones like a whisper from beyond.”

Comments: Technically the first sentence of chapter one hasn’t changed. However, a prologue was added, hence changing the first line the reader will see!

First line of CREED, by Lindsay Currie and Trisha Leaver:

First draft: The car rolled to a stop on the side of the dirt road. I swore, frustrated that I opted to leave my jacket at home rather than cover up my new shirt.

Final copy: The car rolled to a stop on the side of the dirt road. I swore, frustrated that I’d left my jacket at home rather than cover up my new shirt.

Comments: It didn’t change much at all!

First line of ANOMALY, by Caroline Richmond: 

First draft: “The Nazis always arrived on schedule.”

Final draft: “At four o’clock sharp, I spot a Third Reich cadet flying over the farm.”

Comments: Oh goodness, ANOMALY! The book that nearly broke me. When I first started drafting it in 2011, it was written in first person, present tense. But that wasn’t quite working so my agent suggested a switch to third person past. Through the years, the manuscript has been scrapped and re-written multiple times, including the first line; but I’m pleased with how everything has turned out!

First line of THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS, by Skylar Dorset:

First draft: “One day, my father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch.”

Final draft: “One day, my father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch.”

Comments: Yup, exactly the same. 🙂 The first sentence of this book was the first image of the book that ever came to me, and it stayed the same the whole time. One of the few things that did!

First line of FALLS THE SHADOW, by Stefanie Gaither:

First draft: “I took some of the flowers from my sister’s funeral, because I thought her replacement might like them as a welcome-to-the-family present. ”

Final draft: “I took some of the flowers from my sister’s funeral, because I thought her replacement might like them as a welcome-to-the-family present.”

Comments: This was the first line that came to me when I started brainstorming the book, and it managed to survive all fifty billion rounds of revision!

First line of THE MERCILESS, by Danielle Vega:

First draft: “A crescent of blood appears below my cuticle and oozes into the cracks surrounding my thumbnail.”

Final draft: “I snag my thumb on the lunch tray’s metal edge and a crescent of blood appears beneath my cuticle.”

Comments: THE MERCILESS is a horror novel, so I knew I wanted to start with blood. As time went on, I honed the sentence to include a little context, but the overall intent is still the same.

First line of THE VIGILANTE POETS OF SELWYN ACADEMY, by Kate Hattemer:

First draft: “We were back to school after the holidays, back to the routine. The school year had settled itself like a fat person into an airplane seat: it wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it would do.”

Final draft: “A Preface-Slash-Disclaimer from Ethan Andrezejczak: Just call me Ethan.”

Comments: I am extremely grateful to my agent and editor. These two lines demonstrate why.


Writer’s Malaise, and How to Fix It

I suffer from writer’s malaise.

Writer’s block is the noble relative of writer’s malaise. When your plot hits a dead end, when your characters are obstreperous, when your neuroses rear their ugly heads and convince you that every word you’ve ever written is worthless:  that’s writer’s block.  At least you have a reason not to be writing.

Writer’s malaise, also known as Don’t Wanna Disease, is much less acceptable. In other professions, I’ve found, Don’t Wanna Disease is cured by necessity. Don’t wanna shelve books? Your manager might have some other ideas. Don’t wanna write lesson plans? Well, have fun improvising a lecture on gerundives to thirty teenagers whose arsenal of bored expressions could, if transformed into actual weaponry, take down a small nation-state.

But when a writer don’t wanna make up stuff, she can soon find herself, hypothetically speaking, reading about the Mariana Trench on Wikipedia, or seeing whether she can still scratch her nose with her feet, the way she could when she was six. (Hypothetically.)

I’m still frequently Writer’s Ma-Lazy, but here are three strategies that have worked for me.

The Pavlovian Bach Response

This one takes some groundwork, but it’s one of the best tools I have.  When I was revising my second book for my agent, I had a strict and self-imposed deadline:  I was heading off to northern Minnesota to be a wilderness camp counselor for the summer, and I knew there’d be no time for writing.  During hours of intense concentration, I listened to Bach’s concertos for double violin.  Upon my return, I found that whenever I heard this music, my fingers would twitch, my gaze would focus, and I’d actually want to write.  (Really!)  When I’m really stuck, I put on this album.  I only use it about once a month, since I’m worried the magic will wear off, but it never fails.

Your plan:  when you’re already feeling focused, turn on some music that you won’t hear under other circumstances.  After a while, you’ll start to associate it with writing well.  (Maybe.  I make no promises.)

The Sprint-Write

  1. Choose a task that seems just as dreadful as writing.  (I chose running.)
  2. Dress appropriately for Loathsome Task.  You will be marked down for excessively long transitions.  If you require rubber gloves, you can leave those off for the time being.
  3. Set your timer for fifteen minutes.  Write like a maniac.
  4. When the timer rings, do NOT finish your paragraph, sentence, thought, or word.  Leap up.  Perform one chunk of Loathsome Task.  (I ran a mile, but you could clean one toilet, feed one neglected pet, open one piece of mail…)
  5. Repeat steps (3) and (4) until you achieve desired word count, mileage, or level of domestic hygiene.

Utter Distraction

I’m used to writing in my silent apartment. You might call me sensitive to light and sound. (You might also, if you are an enemy or sibling of mine, call me persnickety.) However, if only 20% of my brain is writing and the other 80% is planning my next snack and nurturing professional envy — well, it’s time to leave the house.

One of my most productive drafting days came in a coffeeshop, right next to two women in yoga gear.  The one wearing slightly more lululemon was interviewing the one wearing slightly less lululemon for a job at — who called it? — lululemon.  With 80% of my brain, I eavesdropped.  I learned True Lu’s favorite Cincinnati spin studio,  Aspirational Lu’s passion for trendy overpriced spandex, and where both Lus saw themselves in five years. (Hint: still wearing trendy overpriced spandex.) With the remaining 20% of my brain, I spewed first draft like projectile vomit.

Your plan: scope out chatty people.  Annex the table next to them. Turn off your internal voice that’s screaming at them to shut up, and remind yourself that you have chosen to be there. Take some deep, yogic breaths. Perhaps the Lus could help with this.

You may begin.

Why I Write

For my first post here on this new website in this new year, I gave a lot of thought to what I wanted to discuss. My book is through its edits and mostly out of my hands now, on its way to the completion of a journey that I have dreamed about for years. And, as a consequence, my life lately has been more worrying about marketing than worrying about writing. And some of this marketing gave me advice about the things I should be writing, about what’s selling and not selling, about what people want to read. Which is all important when you are in the process of marketing your book.

But it got me to thinking about why I write. And, when I sit down to write a story, it’s because the characters are clamoring in my head and I need to get them out so I can get some peace and quiet. It’s because there’s an image, or a place, or a line of dialogue, that I want to get down on paper (or screen, more likely), so that I can share it. And it used to be that I just shared it with my family and friends, but now I’m lucky enough that I get to share it with all of YOU. (Or maybe you’ve all become my friends!)

So I write. I write because I love creating. I write because it brings me joy. I write because it makes me happy. And I hope that what I write brings you some joy and happiness, too! That is, I think, my best approach to marketing. 🙂