I give a humor workshop, and I begin at the beginning. The first line.
You all know you have to hook the reader as quickly as possible. Some feel the first paragraph or even the first page is soon enough. I want to do it in the very first sentence! Today, consider me your workshop leader, and have fun.
To free up our inner children and get into a playful mood, I usually start off with an exercise. Do you remember “Mad Libs” from your childhood? They’ve been around for decades. In case you grew up in a cave, I’ll summarize the game.
An innocent-looking one-page story has had certain words (the boring ones) deleted from each sentence. The players call out whatever the current reader asks for…a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, etc. That person fills in the blanks with these random words, and then reads it back to the players. The results are usually hilarious.
I ask workshop participants to try a slightly different version of this game. I’ll throw out some seemingly normal sentences, and you’ll fill in words to give the sentence some ‘zing’ while making it into a possible opening hook. Because the fastest way to immerse your readers in the story and characters is to begin with a line of dialogue, that’s what we are writing.
If you write suspense or dark paranormals, just set that aside for now and enjoy the moment. You can pick and choose the sentence(s) you want to use for the exercise. Brownie points will be given if you attempt more than one. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You can use as many words per blank as you want. You can toss in an adjective or adverb if you think it adds to the hook. Free your inner child-author, don’t think too hard, and have fun with it! Readers...you can do this too.
Day One: Exercise One.
How the ___________ did you get your ____________ stuck in the ___________?
Put that __________ down and __________ me! I’m not ____________, you know.
I love your _____________! How did you get the ___________ to ___________?
I don’t think ___________ is the best way to get ___________ for ____________.
How am I supposed to ____________ with you and ____________ at the same time?
Was that fun or what? Thank you for not saying, “Or what?”
Now, as a reward, I’ll treat you to a couple of my story’s opening lines. By the way, when I say “story” I’m not referring to any particular length. An epic novel is a story. My mission is to try to prevent that epic novel from becoming an endlessly boring story!
From Oh My God:
“Hello, everyone. I can’t remember my name, but I think I’m an alcoholic.”
From Death by Delilah:
“If Delilah hears that song one more time, she’s going to strangle Tom Jones with her thong!”
Let’s talk about the uber-important first-sentence hook in a blurb or query letter.
By the way, I don't make editors wade through the boring stuff to get to my story idea. I start right off with a bang...the blurb. Chances are it won’t be dialogue, so here’s a chance to write a catchy narrative opening.
Here are a couple of mine:
From Demolishing Mr. Perfect.
Even though she’s a nurse at a sperm bank, meeting young, virile medical students every day, Natalie Watson’s relationships always seem to suffer from stress fractures.
From Heaving Bosoms:
What do tattooed butts, the Mafia and a medical student have in common?
And Now...first lines from my latest work, release date Feb 1st, but at Amazon now:
The Werewolf Upstairs
"Here are your keys, dear. Thanks for coming upstairs to get them. Now don't let your neighbor across the hall scare you."
Okay…now that you’re all warmed up and raring to go, get to work on that next story!