Purple Prose + Writing

First Line. Last Line

Most of you have probably heard of Donald Maass’s book Writing The Breakout Novel. I ordered the workbook by the same name this weekend and, assuming it’s got some kickass advice, will review it in the New Year.

In this post, I want to focus on his great advice from The Fire In Fiction: passion, purpose, and techniques to make your novel great. Seriously, what is it with all these incredibly long titles for non-fiction books about writing fiction? Geesh!

We all know how important the first line is when the reader checks out the first page of a novel. I mean, who can resist first lines like these?:

Phoebe and her friends held their breath as the dead girl in the plaid skirt walked past their table in the lunchroom. (Generation Dead by Daniel Waters)

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day. (The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan)

Three things I know this second: I have morning breath, I’m naked, and I’m waking up next to a boy I don’t know. (The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney)

There’s a big difference between death threats and love letters—even if the person writing the death threats still claims to actually love you. (Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead)

We slave, we stress, we sweat, all while struggling to create that perfect first line. But according to Donald Maass, that’s not enough. The first and last line of each scene should be rocking. I know, you’re all groaning. Wasn’t perfecting the first line of the book bad enough? But it makes sense when you think about it. With the scene’s final line, you want to keep the reader from putting the book down. If the next scene has a great line like the first one of the book, then you’ve just enticed your reader to keep reading (assuming she’s enthralled with your story or her eyes lids haven’t drooped shut because it’s 2 am.)

Now, the final line of each scene doesn’t have to be a cliff hanger, but it does have to leave the reader wanting more. Right? And I do think you have some leeway with the first sentences. They can’t all be as great as your first one. But it is worth the tears to make them as strong as you can.

Has anyone tried this technique before, or is it something you haven’t given much thought to?

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First Line. Last Line + Writing