Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ready, Steady, Go! (a contest)

The power of the first line:

Where's Papa going with that ax?

As soon as certain questions are asked, you realize that you, too, would very much like to know the answer. Have you ever been at a cocktail party and overheard a question that turned your whole attention toward it like a needle seeking north? This is one of those. With this beginning, you know something's going to happen. And this question leads directly into the book's source of tension. Fabulous.

I come from a family with a lot of dead people.

Voice. I will wade through dim and perilous fens of slush for voice. And here it's matched with a sense of humor. I'm hooked.

In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon.

Cadence. The order of these syllables and the way in which they rhyme forces the voice to slow. Compare this to the first line of Madeline, which trips off the tongue. Madeline could be read very quickly, but this is a bedtime book, and it makes the reader go softly.

One day my mama caught me paintin' pictures on the floor
and the ceiling
and the walls
and the curtains
and the door
and I heard my mama holler like I never did before--
"Ya ain't a-gonna paint no more!"

Rhythm. Here is a book that would have every chance of sounding idiotic in a query letter. But read that first page aloud, and you're practically out of your seat with the irrepressible energy of it. Love it.

So here's the deal: send me your first line (or your first two lines, if you must) and I will post a select few to comment on. Send them to my email with CONTEST in the subject line.

This contest opens now, and closes as soon as I've had enough. Maybe tomorrow.


Unknown said...
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Jeannette Towey said...
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Jeannette Towey said...
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Jeannette Towey said...

Oops sorry - I've just seen that we were meant to send the first lines to your e-mail. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Qual said...
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Qual said...

I think this exercise works on two levels: firstly, it will be nice to see which openings work and which don't - and why. Secondly, it exposes the age old problem of not following submission guidelines.

Sarah Miller said...

Any bonus points for IDing the example lines you posted?

mordicai said...

"The sky overhead was lousy with zeppelins, crewed by the dead."

Andy J Smith illustration said...

Here are two first lines from two different MS...

No matter what Theo was doing
and no matter what his parents said,
he always sucked his tremendous-stupendous thumb.

While his friends were eating other dinosaurs, Preston ate nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Literaticat said...

I think it's funny that I actually read the complete instructions, posted about it on my blog, then blithely disobeyed them.


my only excuse ... it was 3 am!

Anonymous said...

Well, I sent mine to the right place, but...

I left a stray comma in and I haven't got the 3am excuse!

Pat in UK

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