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Thursday, November 5, 2009

These Shoes Draw Attention...

...coming and going. The leopard print toe is odd enough, but the heel with the fish in it? Really? We all know that the first and last lines of our manuscripts (even of our chapters) are important. They should leave a lasting effect on the reader, and unlike these shoes, it should be a good one. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass points out that the first and last lines of each and every scene are just as important. A good first line should create anticipation (tension) in the reader, and a good last line should not only close out the scene, but it should also leave the reader wondering what will happen next. I've tried to make the first and last lines of each chapter memorable (some attempts more successful than others), but what about every scene? This is another area I'm focusing on during my revisions. How much attention have you paid to the first and last lines of each and every scene?

47 comments:

Tamika: said...

I pay a lot of attention to the last lines, I know they keep the reader turning the pages. Sadly after reading your post I need to pay more attention to the scene's beginning.

Thanks for all the wonderful information!

Kathy said...

Yes, they are important. I agree with Tamika. I probably focus more on the last lines of each chapter. I want the reader to keep turning the page.

Diane said...

I have to admit, I get to the end of a chapter and need to stop reading but can't because that last sentence has such a strong hook that I don't want to stop! :O)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I do try to make hooky last sentences, but I probably need to look at my opening sentences in scenes.

Natalie said...

I like last sentences. They're fun to write. I still have trouble with first sentences though.

Anita Saxena said...

I always try to close a scene with a BAM, but the beginning...hmm...I'll have to take a look at those.

WhisperingWriter said...

A fish in a shoe? Eek.

I probably need to concentrate on my lines at the end of scenes. Some are okay, some need work.

Stephanie L. McGee said...

Those shoes are funny! As for your question, it's yet another good one to ponder if I ever get to the revision stage.

Thanks!

Kristi Faith said...

Well, I had never thought of each scene...and chapters UGH, the bane of my existence. However, this is good advice for me to try and weed out where the "page turners" are and where to begin. I'm actually pretty good with first sentences...it's the last that need work. :)

Tere Kirkland said...

Sometimes this tension comes automatically, and other times I have to work pretty hard at it. I'll have to check my openings more than my endings, so thanks for the reminder!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I really try to make them interesting. It kind of jumpstarts me into writing the scenes.

Patti said...

You really need to stop pointing out more stuff that we need to work on. My list is already a mile long. :)

It's a valid point though. I have a tendency to keep writing when really I should have ended the scene three paragraphs ago.

Anissa said...

I love ending chapters with cliffhangers. Love it! I can't quite manage that much tension at the end of each and every chapter, but I do try to make sure whatever the ending is, it propels the reader forward.

Great reminder, and very odd shoes. :)

Cindy said...

This suggestion from Maass really intrigued me. Just like you, I tried to focus time on making the first line, paragraph, etc. of the first page memorable and something that would make a reader on. I didn't focus at all on every scene. I'm working on this in my new manuscript and the beginnings are going well. It's the endings of each scene I'm definitely going to have to punch up.

Name: Holly Bowne said...

Oh goodie! At least I'm doing 50% of this. I have been focusing on each scene's ending sentences, now I just need to take a look at my beginnings. Sigh. I like what Patti said about how you need to stop "pointing out more stuff that we need to work on." Ha, ha, ha!

(Seriously though, I DO appreciate your blog very much! And at least I stumbled upon it more towards the beginning of my novel-writing adventure. :-)

Rae said...

I determine which books I buy according to the opening lines. If they can't capture my attention there, I will not waste my time purchasing and reading it. It is a difficult task to have that line make an impact, but it is so essential.

Carolyn V. said...

I do try to leave a little bit of a hook at each chapter. It seems to be working, my critique group keeps wanting more. Hooray!

strugglingwriter said...

I guess I concentrate on this, if only because I usually send out my work a chapter at a time to my writing group and therefore always want to draw them in at the beginning and get them wanting more at the end (I guess that's what Carolyn V said).

L. T. Host said...

I've always wondered about the logistics of those shoes. And the poor fish inside!

Interesting post; I love leaving my last line as punchy as possible. My first lines can be kinda generic though... something else to think about!

Paul said...

I usually do a revision solely for first and last lines. For last lines,I try to have some variety in them. Some cliff hangers but some just posing question or the mc coming up with some weird way of looking at something. For first lines I'm big on dialogue.

Matthew Delman said...

The current WiP is where I'm attempting a lot of the things you're discussing from Mr. Maass's book. In terms of first and last lines of scenes, I feel like I'm pretty good with using first lines to set up the subsequent action -- sometimes it's good to have a slightly generic beginning though, if only to flip the reader's perception upside down a paragraph later.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Some days I'm really good at this, and then other times I'll spend days trying to fix one line! But I know how important it is. Got to keep those readers turning pages :)

Faith said...

In the rough draft, I'm not paying much attention, but I know it'll be a huge part of my revisions... I don't want to give ANYONE a reason NOT to turn the page or stop reading, so those first and last lines of each scene will be critical!

Angie Muresan said...

Those are the craziest shoes!!! I agree with first and last lines of scenes being important. I sometimes think though, that I spend too much time on them.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I took an online course by Terry Spear who talked about that exact thing and have been applying hooks wherever I can. Great post!

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

Melanie's Randomness said...

I like the last lines of each chapter because I enjoy the lil rush of adrenaline of not knowing what's going to happen for that brief moment. I think it makes it funner for the reader too, to leave them hanging on for that moment.

Thanks for your last comment on my blog. Your absolutely right. Thank you *Hugs*

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Just got pretty excited last night at a revamp I did to my beginning. Still have the last lines to write, but that anticipation thrills me, too.
~ Wendy

Tara said...

I recently discovered I had a few beginning lines that needed work. I'd end the last scene or chapter with a hook and then recap it on the next page. One of my critique partners pointed out that the hook was good enough to make her turn the page, so she didn't need a recap. I hadn't thought of it that way.

Matt said...

I'm sure I'm guily of not paying enough attention to openings, but I always try to write a cliffhanger ending. I once posted an opening chapter on AW share your work, and some goober called my hook an obvious ploy to get the reader to keep reading.

Yep.

Tabitha Bird said...

Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to first lines and paragraphs. I expect I will also be focusing on last lines soon too. Great reminder.

Dominique said...

I get a feeling when it's time to stop the scene. usually it's when I know I've found the right line to close it on.

Kelly H-Y said...

That is the perfect shoe for this post! First and last lines are so important with picture books too ... hook them quickly, and have a great ending!

Amy Tate said...

Actually, that is a really cool shoe! I'm not sure where I would wear that, but it definitely got my attention. I recently read where an agent posted about great first lines and great ending lines, but weak middles. I think we focus so much on the first three chapters that we sometimes don't edit the rest of the book as critically as we should. Easier said than done.

Terri Tiffany said...

I just got a critique back and one person commented that my last line of one chapter was too familiar to the last line of the prior chapter. I try so hard to get the first line good that often I don't leave the reader wondering with the next one.

staceyjwarner said...

Hmmm...I'll have to think about this. What defines a "scene" in prose? A location?

much love

Robyn Campbell said...

You know Susan? I have been looking at some of my first and last sentences. I need to dive in and fix 'em. Some are great! Some are not.

ARGH! I've edited so much that when people are talking to me, I'm editing their sentences in my head. :)

Janna Qualman said...

It's hard for me to gauge, since I'm on my first draft. But I try to pay great attention to them both.

Those shoes? Not so great. Ack!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I try to make them memorable, but they turn out more enigmatic most of the time. Kind of like those shoes. lol.

~Ellie Kings~ said...

Coming here is like going to a class on achieving good writing. Thanks Susan! I had thought much on this. Currently working on getting those lines just right.

Laura Martone said...

Yet another wonderful tip to remember as I begin my revisions in a couple weeks. Sigh.

Laura Martone said...

Oh, but I agree with Ellie! Visiting your blog IS like going to an awesome writing class... for FREE!!! Thanks, Susan. :-)

quixotic said...

Excellent point. I always try to make an effort to re-hook the reader at the start of each chapter, and leave off with a little cliffhanger at the end to make them read on.

Heather Sunseri said...

I am definitely trying to focus on every first and last lines of scenes. I read somewhere how some last lines of chapters should be cliff hangers, but not all of them. Just another thing to think about as we revise.

Lily Robinson said...

Oh my gosh! You're making it such work! LOL I simply must hurry up and get this book...

Jade said...

I try and end all my chapters (and scenes) with something that keeps people wanting to turn the pages.
You know when you're reading a book late at night and you're really tired and so you say, 'one more chapter' but at the end of the chapter is a cliffhanger and you HAVE to keep reading? Yeah, that's what I want to achieve.

Stephen Tremp said...

A tornado destroyed the house we lived in when my mom was pregnant with me a year after my parents moved out. Close call. Tornadoes are fascinating to watch.

Stephen Tremp

jbchicoine said...

Susan, I have to say, as one of your beta-readers, this is something you excel at, especially when it comes to hooking me with your closing lines. You’ve made me realize how effectively this can be done, making me go back and take a closer look at my own writing—thanks for that!