Karin crits a few first lines

October 23, 2007 | Karin's Blog | 13 comments

Okay, I hope this helps. And, as a side note, if I misinterpreted any of these lines, sorry. But in that confusion therein may lie the problem. One of the things my judge mentioned when she sent me her culled lines was that she was confused by several of the lines. Hence they were culled.
I also realized after my notes here I need to practice what I preach!

1. “Which of you two biyaches is my Aunt Freddie?”
This sounds eerily familiar to me. And I will leave it at that. 😉

2. Hundreds of miles away from Rhesus-Hecks, on the other side of a mountain range resembling a row of green and gray witches’ hats, the sun is mooning, Whatever!
This opening line confused me. I wasn’t sure if it was tongue in cheek or a legitimate stab at a first line. Either way, I scratched my head and reread it several times, not ‘getting’ it at all. But, after further ponderance, I think I get what the author is trying to convey. Frustration. The frustration of a writer. An opening line with emotion is good. To give this line more velocity I’d inject POV to show the frustration. Now that said, I have tried and tried to come up with an example of what I suggested and I keep coming back to square one. Without creating another line it’s damn difficult! Suggestions anyone? For what it’s worth, I think this is a great first line but needs to be clarified.

3.The bitch needed to die.
Strong first line. But over done, almost cliché. It’s one of those shock jock first lines, and I think these type of lines work really well (and use I them myself). But this one is too familiar.

4. “Another fat wanker,” muttered Alex through gritted teeth, as she hurried up the pit lane towards the portly middle aged man.
Too many words dragged this great first line down.
My suggestion? “Another fat wanker,” Alex muttered. Less is more. And with less it draws us to the second line, which could incorporate some of the information in the original first line.

5. Nestled on the side of a hill was the town of Kintbury, bathed in the late afternoon sunshine.
This line is uneventful, unexciting. The POV sounds omniscient. Not a good way to hook a reader. But there are pearls in these words.
My suggestion? Put us immediately into a POV and show us what the POV’er sees. Also how does he feel about what he sees?
John gazed down with longing at the tiny town of Kintbury nestled snuggly against the emerald hills of (name of area).

6. Antoinette threw back her head and let the scream rip from her throat.
Another less is more. I liked the first version of this first line better.
My suggestion?
Antoinette threw her head back and screamed. (This will draw us right into the next line. Why or what is she screaming at or from.)
See how the shortened version has a harder punch? This is an active sentence whereas the way it was written is passive. We are being told what she is doing. In the new version, she’s doing it.

7. I’m lurking in the almost-dark at the door of my hotel bathroom, staring at the bathtub.
This line confused me. When words like almost, nearly, and felt like are used they weaken a statement. Make it dark if it’s dark, or if it isn’t dark show us with strong description what it is and give us some emotion here. I have no clue as to the person’s mood here.
My suggestion: Boldly, (tentatively, meekly, quietly,) I lurked in the grey shadows of my hotel bathroom staring (staring why? Give us emotion here, staring blankly, in disbelief, in horror? This is the emotional hook to pull into reading the next line) in mute horror (in disbelief, in shock, in awe) at the bathtub.
Also, I believe when an opening line is in first person there has to be a hard personal/emotional hit. From the first line we need to be vested emotionally in the person telling the story.

8. When my water broke, I was sitting on the floor, writing about waiting and time and limbic spaces.
Another one that I had to read several times to ‘get’. Still not sure what the author is trying to convey here. I understand she is sitting on the floor and she is obviously pregnant since her water broke, but instead of giving us the hum drum action of writing, give us emotion. Emotion trumps passive writing, telling or uneventful action every time. I also had to look up limbic.
My suggestion? Make this an active emotional line.
The quick gush of amniotic fluid soaked my pants and the floor where I sat, interrupting my writing.
Ok, that kind of sucked, but you get my drift. Show us, don’t tell us and give us an emotional clue.

9. The Sunday sun sinks low in the sky and the time has come.
Another confusingly structured sentence. A few things are going on here. It’s passive. There is no emotion, and it’s written in a way to make me not care what time has come. There is no punch here. My suggestion? Let’s get into a POV and kick it up a notch. As I watched the Sunday sun sink low in the sky my skin chilled: I knew, the time had come. Or As my heart sunk along with the Sunday sun, I knew the time had come. Or. The time had come.

I hope this helped!



  1. Kara

    Thanks for the comments, Karin. A learning experience as always to hear someone else’s interpretations. I think in trying to make a contest entry “punch” I sometimes try to overdo when I’ve come to realize, often times the KISS principle would have worked for me. But you made that suggestion in a couple of the examples. Funny how nerves can skew our vision. 🙂

  2. Alex Adams

    Thanks so much, Karin! I’m the author of #2 and there isn’t meant to be a comma between the last two words. Whatever! is the name of a tiny village in my story. Thanks again for taking time to do this 🙂

  3. Karin

    Alex! *I feel like such a dork!* as for the comma, I thought I had inadvertanty delted it so added one. again, excuse my dorkness.

    oh, and now that you explained that Whatever is the name of a town, I get the visual of it being mooned by the moon, and I love it!

  4. Karin

    Kara, I’m currently having an email conversation with the judge who is judging this next round. And we both agree, and she is a veteran New York published author, that we writers have this incredible urge to get it all into one line. Then we fuss and fuss and second guess ourselves.
    It’s like on American Idol. Play to your strengths and don’t force the song.

  5. Alex Adams

    Don’t worry; I do at least ten dorky things before breakfast every single day 😀

  6. Tracey

    Karin thanks so much – I am number 6. and yes – everything Kara said applies to me. You know how you start second guessing every thing. In the story my opening line is actually – She screamed.
    Can’t get much simpler than that. Should have stuck to it.

    ::Big Kiss:: for doing this again. I’ll be following the results with keen interest.

    Alex – I’m also with you – dorkiness is my forte.

  7. Rhonda

    Wow, this was a huge help! I like seeing what you’d do to fix these lines…

  8. B.E. Sanderson

    Thanks for doing this, Karin. Even though I did make the next round, this exercise is great for illustrating how I can tighten my work and edit for clarity. =oD

  9. Cele

    Wow, great comments and insights Karin, thank you so much.

  10. Gaill

    Like every one else, I am amazed at your time management skills. Along with writing, I need to get lessons in that, too!
    This is great. Even though none of the lines are mine, I missed getting in this time, I can apply your comments to my own writing. I really appreciate you taking the time to help us learn.

  11. Tempest Knight

    I enjoyed reading these entries and your comments. 🙂

  12. Karin

    Hey, happy to see my insight helped. I’m amazed at myself sometimes and how much I keep learning form everyone.

  13. Judy Sabel Soifer

    I just read all your comments today. I also made it to the next round last Monday. I don’t know if I did today, but reading your comments was a learning experience for all of us. I think it’s great that you’re doing this. You have good heart, Karin.


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