Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Firsts

Dude, today is the first day of my twelfth year of teaching! It is officially the longest I have ever held one assignment. (I spent three years as a music/art specialist, and then four years teaching third grade. So this one day of my FIFTH YEAR in the computer lab makes being the technology specialist the longest teaching assignment I've had.)

So today, on this first day of awesome, I wanted to talk about firsts. We hear it all the time as authors. You've got to hook them with your first line. The first sentence. The first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter.

I'm no different. Heck, I like to be hooked by the front cover. First sight. That kind of thing.

That said, does that mean I quit if I'm not wowed by the cover? No.

What about the first sentence? Nope, I give authors a lot longer than that to wow me. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't labor to find the exact right line to open our stories with. There is something to be said about first impressions.

Some examples of what I think works:
1. "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold." ~The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

I love this line, because it implies that the other side of the bed shouldn't be cold, and that this MC is left wanting because they were asleep when the other person left. It's haunting and poetic at the same time.

2. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." ~Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling.

I think this line does a decent job of convincing me to read more. I mean, it just screams of "NOT normal coming right up!" and I'm a sucker for "not normal."

3. "I used to be someone." ~The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson.

Now, it's no secret that this is one of my favorite books. Lines like this are why. There is an immediate connection to the main character, because we all want to be someone.

But I don't stop with one sentence, or one paragraph, or one page, or even one chapter. I do think firsts are important, and I do think authors should work to create the best writing and storytelling they can. The goal is that every word is in the right place, not just the first one.

Some firsts I like just by looking at them: (I have not read any of the books below, but I want to just from my first impression of seeing the cover.)

I mean, seriously? How could you not want to read this?

This is seriously creeptastically eye-catching. First impression? CHECK.

First is the title. It's brilliant. The haunting smoke, the wind-whipped hair... I'm sold.

Are you a creature of firsts? Do covers sell you? First pages/chapters? How long do you read before you know a book just isn't for you?







36 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Congrats on your 12th year of teaching.

You picked some great first lines. I think the cover and first lines are important but if a book intrigues me or I've heard good things about it, I wouldn't stop reading if I wasn't wowed by the cover or the beginning.

Tamara said...

Congrats on your 12th year of teaching! I'm in the middle of my 2nd year... goodness, I couldn't imagine going for another 10!

I give books until about the halfway mark. If I'm still not sold, or if something happens in the book that is simply MORTIFYING (e.g. presenting the most vital piece of information via tell rather than show, ug), then I'll close it. I learned that the hard way, after giving up on a book too early and finding out I was wrong, wrong, wrong about it!

Jemi Fraser said...

Love those covers! I'm definitely drawn in by covers. I usually give at least a chapter before I decide to abandon a book. I'll sometimes go longer (especially if chapters are short) - but there are too many great books out there to waste too much time on those that don't work for me.

Emily White said...

I'm a true sucker for the cover. If I don't like it, I probably won't ever read the book (unless I hear some spectacular reviews). Once the cover catches my attention, I read the first few pages. If they pique my interest and I find myself reading the whole first chapter before putting it back on the shelf, I'll buy it.

By the way, congrats on your twelfth year!! :)

Slamdunk said...

Congrats Elena.

Covers can grab my attention, but I reserve judgment on a book by reading a bit of it. I also like to know background of the author--that can also attract me to a book.

AE Rought said...

Way to go on your milestone!

I'll admit I'm a sucker for a pretty cover, but I don't buy on a pretty face alone. I give a book the first chapter before I buy--but that's it. I am not fan of books people say "really get going after a hundred pages." Sorry, but there's lots of other books out there, I don't want to work that hard to fall in love.

Cherie Reich said...

I'll admit covers and book descriptions can grab my attention to want to read a book. I do try to start reading each book like this will be the best book I've read to date. Some don't come close, though, but I try to read at least the first 50-100 pages. If I'm not hooked by then, then I'll give up.

lynnrush said...

Oh my gosh. As I Wake's cover is freaking AWESOME! Wow. Yeah. Covers get me. It gets me to pick the book up off the shelf. Then it's the back cover blurb. If that entices me enough, I'll open it and read the first few sentences. If they all fall into sync, the book finds its way to the cash register. :)

I stopped reading a book after 100 pages...that's when I've had enough .... haven't picked it back up :( Maybe some day.....

Rachele Alpine said...

I'm a teacher too...my students start tomorrow. Happy back to school! I look forward to the school year, but I miss all the writing time I have in the summer.

Susan Aylworth said...

Congratulations on your first day and on listing some great first lines, too. I taught for 30 years. This fall I'm watching people go back to school and thinking, "Glad that's not me!" Different times in our lives, I suppose. Hmmm...

Have a great year!

Stephanie McGee said...

More than covers, it's the titles that pull me in. There was a book I bought once that I really ended up liking but what caught my attention was the title. It was the last copy on the shelf, a rather thin book, tucked between two thicker hardcover books (this one was trade). I was just scanning the titles and "Princess Ben" was too intriguing to pass up. I did enjoy the book, but I don't even remember whether I read the back cover copy before I bought.

I try to give each book a fair shake, but sometimes by the end of the first chapter I'm ready to just throw it across the room. Other times I get well into the book and something happens to make it that I have to put it down. And then I find I'm not interested in going back to it, I'm not sitting there stewing over what comes next. Surefire sign the book isn't working for me. So I usually go online looking for spoilers so I know how it ends but I don't have to slog through it. (Bad reader, I know.)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Covers can certainly grab my attention, sometimes even more than titles.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I have my favorite authors that I read no matter what, but for new authors, the cover has got to grab me. If it's not an awesome work of art that tells me a little about the story, I almost never pick it up.

Shari said...

I'm addicted to cool covers and I love firsts. I'm still working on mine. Congratulations to you on yours!

J. A. Bennett said...

I'm dying to get my hands on Everneath just becasue the cover haunts my dreams.

Angela Brown said...

I must admit, I am a sucker for firsts as well. Probably the reason I'm struggling to work the right first sentence for my own YA paranormal novel. It's important because it is an invitation and you want it to be something the reader simply can't refuse.

Cynthia Lee said...

It's the whole package for me. The cover, the synopsis and the first page. I usually read the first page to make sure that the writing is good and won't drive me crazy with too many adverbs.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

I TOTALLY judge books by firsts. But only in the: YES I AM SO GOING TO LOVE THIS way. If I don't feel the instant pull of the cover/title/first line, I usually give the book at least 5 or 6 chapters. If I'm still not feeling it, I skip to the middle to see if things get better. If they don't, I'm out.

Kazzy said...

Those were great firsts! I love the first chapter of Peace Like A River so much, that every time I try to read it aloud to my husband or a close friend I simply can not do it.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post, Elana! I love ALL of your examples, and you make such a great point. And those covers... I am TOTALLY hooked! :-)

Carolyn V said...

I love firsts! And I must admit that I do look at covers. I didn't think I did and I try not to always pick up a flashy cover, but I do sometimes.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Congrats on 12 years!!!
Covers a HUGE when I am blindly looking at the library or bookstore. I've found some of my favorite books that way. First lines or paragraph's aren't to big of a deal to me, but I LOVE when I connect with the character by the end of the that 1st chapter, then I'm usually in it for the long hall.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Congrats on 12 years!!!
Covers a HUGE when I am blindly looking at the library or bookstore. I've found some of my favorite books that way. First lines or paragraph's aren't to big of a deal to me, but I LOVE when I connect with the character by the end of the that 1st chapter, then I'm usually in it for the long hall.

Liza said...

Covers count. First lines count, first pages count, but if I'm not hooked by then, it's probably not going to fly. Good luck in the upcoming school year.

Julie said...

Congratulations on 12 years! That's awesome. :)
I'm with you, I get hooked by firsts.
I actually passed on reading The Hunger Games for quite awhile because the cover didn't suck me in. Bad, I know. I've changed my ways lol.
Maybe if I'd opened the cover and read the first line, I'd have read it a lot sooner.

Angie said...

When reading a submission, I can usually tell in the first paragraph or two if I don't want to buy it. It takes a whole story to know if I do want to buy it. That's true of the books I read too, I think. Hope you have a great school year! *hugs*

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Whoohoo, Elana! Congrats! Seriously awesome covers, too! Only one I was familiar with so now I'm off to check out the other books . . . hope you're having a great summer, girl!

Krispy said...

Congrats on your 12 years!

I love firsts, but like you, I give most books time. Some of my favorite books have covers I really dislike, and some of them are slow to start.

Jeff King said...

You have five pages to sell me; if it isn't working, it is bye-bye-birdie!

I have ditched: Lord of the Rings. Crown of Thorns... and many other books that were supposed to be "good"
Nice post.

Kelly said...

I love reading first lines of books!
Congrats on your first day of your 12th year teaching! Have a wonderful school year!
(Thursday will be the first day of the 12th year that I haven't taught full time - since I had my first child!!)

June G said...

I admit. I'm terribly drawn in by a books cover. A Beautiful Dark had me salivating to read it and I didn't rest until I did. Thank goodness it didn't disappoint. I've never paid attention to first lines--though a particular good one is cool, I give a book much more time to convince me than that.

Congrats on your 12 years. You must have pretty good kids. So many teachers I know have or plan to exit out of the classroom ASAP!

Nichole Giles said...

I generally give a book 50 pages or so to hook me--or 3 if I don't actually own it or have it checked out. And the cover is important too, but not crucial if I've heard buzz about the story.

Congrats on the first day. Hope you survived!

Leslie Rose said...

An intriguing cover will always suck me in. One of my favorite leads is from FAHRENHEIT 451. "It was a pleasure to burn." Chapter titles draw me in as well - from the same book - Chapter 1 The Hearth and the Salamander.

Liesl said...

Wow, the cover of "As I Wake" is astounding! But then I have to admit that the title makes me think of "Before I Fall" and "If I stay" and so I'm wondering if it is similar to those. I don't know anything about it, but I'm already making assumptions.

I don't really judge a lot by covers or first lines. It's great if there is an amazing cover and first line, but I don't start to make judgments until I've read a page or two and I almost always give a book 50 pages before I decided to put it down or read the rest.

Awesome post!

Carol Riggs said...

AWESOME covers, here, love 'em all. So creative and eye-catching. I admit to being shallow and choosing books (at least initially) by their covers. So yep, covers sell me! They at least get my attention so I pick the book up and read the flap and starting sentence. :)

Ron Smith said...

I'll admit it.
I have a cover fetish.
Shiny covers.
Cool, swirly typefaces.
Brooding faces or dark, tangled woods always draw me in.

I'm a title freak, too. My current WIP that is out right now has a really awesome title one of my crit partners came up with.

But once I get to reading those books, it's the pages that have to draw me in. Once I'm past the cover, it better grab me or it joins the Island of Lonely Books, that takes up way too many shelves in our house.

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