Sunday 5 November 2023

Line 1s from this year's SPFBO finalists!


This year's SPFBO has produced 10 excellent finalists, and in due course each of the ten blogs will read each of the ten books, producing a champion for us and ranking all the books with a score.

Judgemental? Yes. But that's what draws the eyes that self-published books need if they're to do well.

I thought I would take a look at the first line (or lines) of each of the finalists and give my thoughts on them. Since judgements are what people like, I'm going to order them to find which is my favourite, and then, totally tongue-in-cheek predict the order the blogs will score them based purely on this inadequate assessment.

So here they are in the order that their first line captured me. Just the first line. The second and third etc may redeem or betray the start, but my ranking is based on what leads up to the first period.

Note, that of course while all authors strive to make every line good, a book whose first line, paragraph, or page are not immediately hooking the reader can still sink those hooks to great depth over the long run and prove to be astounding reads.

The reason I focus so much on the opening in my analysis is two-fold:

i) it's easy to do!

ii) modern readers are so easily distracted that grabbing them early can be a very good strategy - too slow and many of them may bail on you.

The Last Ranger

Well, we have two parties. Silver fox + Hidden One. But not a lot else.

Pressing on we get some generalities before that pay off "a second life", which admittedly is a good hook.

Master of the Void

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Orimund Laetus shifted irritably in his high-backed wooden chair. There were many things in this world that vexed him. Too many to list really, but dripping rain gutters had to be in the top ten.

This one is copied text rather than a screen capture from Amazon because the preview on Amazon doesn't actually reach line 1 of chapter 1 (unless you count the song).

Here I break my own rule and do not count the "taps" as line 1 (or lines 1, 2 and 3).

I'm not generally a fan of two-name introductions. For a PoV it feels a bit distant. This is a very minor nit.

Most chairs are wood. Probably only worth mentioning what it's made of if it's something unusual. Like ham. And do we need space in line 1 to tell us it's high backed?

Pressing on a bit further we do learn that our man is an irritable sort. But being annoyed by a dripping gutter is not the most hooky of openings.

Daughter of the Beast

Nice to start in the middle of something, it's a good way to get to know the character/s, plus if it's a fight there's tension/threat there from the get go. On the other hand, it is a bit generic here: parry, blow, lash out, attack. Specifics are far more interesting. Show us. Put us there. Make it hurt.

Pressing on: I see we're committed to this fight. The underestimation possibly introduces tension. It continues to be a bit generic though. I don't even know what weapons they're using.

The Last Fang of God

An immediate threat. A sense of vulnerability (he's in bed). A question. Nothing super hooky or original in line one, but solid enough.

Subsequent line follows the focus. Our man has a knife in bed.

A Rival Most Vial

A solid opening having something in common with some of the others - an innocuous event combined with a surprising revelation. But it works.

Nit note on the two name intro again. I may be the only person on earth who feels this way 😀.

Pressing on: We get a gentle intro to the shop, quiet and peaceful. Which but for the first line could be said to be a bit dull and indulgent. But with the first line it's now playing with the reader who is waiting all agog to see who will come in through the door and is eating up the description in order to get to that bit. 

The Wickwire Watch 

This is a good, punchy first line. It immediately poses questions, and also carries a sense of humour with it. "Mr Bash" is a bit distant given we're going to immediately be inside this gentleman's head and be asked to share his aches and pains. 

Pressing on we see no immediate threat but learn that he is probably not a young man, and that the sense of humour was likely his, not the narrator's, given his entertaining thoughts on the cold.

It should be noted that the weather is not as great a scene setter as people think. And cold is weather. "It was a dark and stormy night." is a derided opener, not a praised one.

However, the cold is used well here.

Cold West

It's a general statement, but it's a good one. It begs questions because we immediately assume our character has met, and probably lost, the love of his life, and that he probably had/has a lot of "mean" in him. So already we're keen to meet him.

Pressing on: We conclude the saying with some nice bloody imagery which also builds the vibe. And then we're in first person, in the head of the person who met and lost their love, and who has regained all their mean!

Hills Of Heather And Bone

This is a good first line. It immediately gives us a fantasy vibe with questions about this death beneath the dirt AND it marries the idea to an unexpected spot of gardening. The ivy still gives us room to believe it might be a graveyard or something but the ... lettuce. Death and lettuce. Colour me intrigued.

Pressing on: we find the death is a mouse skull, and get more plant description. But there's a touch of macbre, touching the eye sockets, and then a necromantic connection. Feels original and begs questions.

Murder at Spindle Manor

This offers the other side of the Wickwire Watch coin. One arrives not knowing he's going to die. Here she arrives intending to kill someone.

Again, I find two name intros for PoV characters a touch distancing. Again, it's a minor nit.
I like this line for several reasons. I like the contrast of the specific formal opening, a precise time and place and name, with the open generality of intending to kill someone. Not a specific person. Someone. That begs all sorts of questions.

Moving on, rather like the Wickwire Watch opening, we get some weather (generally not a great way to open, though so tempting to do). But still, I'm here for the woman with her intention to kill someone!

The Fall Is All There Is

Another fine punchy opening. The threat is more specific than "going to die tonight" but it's also firmly in the past rather than the future, and less fatal. 

Pressing on: again, we're simultaneously gifted the promise of an amusing point of view, which is engaging. The image of the torture implements being displayed heightens the threat, and the self-depricating humour undercuts it nicely.

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1 comment:

  1. I really like that intro from Cold West. Good narrative voice (in one line).