Sunday, June 29, 2014



I pluck a card from the display.
The words within gargle in my throat
Until my tongue longs to spit the sour.
I swallow the urge,
And place the card back into its slot.
This ritual repeats until options exhaust,
Save the cloying cards below
And the ostentatious offerings above.

How does something so seemingly simple
As purchasing a greeting card
Become a game of betting and bluffing?
I loathe to trite complications.
For whatever you were,
Whatever you are,
Whatever we are…
I know what I am not.

I skulk over to the blank card section.
I can write the truth there.
Not the whole truth.
But enough.
I choose a card with flowers.
You like flowers, don’t you?

- Theresa Milstein

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How to Make Your First Line POP!

I've known Jessica Bell for years, and I'm lucky to have met her in person in December. She's written a fab series of books (Writing in a Nutshell) to help writers. Read about her newest writer's resource, and find out about Jessica's generous offer

How to Make Your First Line POP!
by Jessica Bell

There’s nothing more important than starting your story right. So don’t forfeit the chance to make sure the first line of your novel really cries for readers’ attention.

There are a few points you might like to consider to make your first line the best it can possibly be. I believe the ideal first line does the following:

1. Poses a question. By this, I do not mean your first sentence should literally be a question; I mean it should introduce a conflict that has the potential to spark readers’ interest.

2. Hints at genre.

3. Is not too long. Punchy works best. Think about those infamous six-word stories: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. They embody so much complexity in so few words, don’t they? Aim for something similarly concise and complex. Think of your first sentence as a complete slice of life. It should conjure vivid imagery and intrigue.

4. Is noticeably related to the plot of your story. Even if a reader doesn’t immediately recognize it as such, the connection will dawn on them further into the book.

Before I give you an example of a good first line, let me show you a weak one:

My name is Janet and I don’t want to see my therapist.

Okay, let’s break this down.

Does it pose a question? Erm … yes, but not a very intriguing one. Something needs to be added for the reader to really want to know why Janet doesn’t want to see her therapist. At the moment, I’m not really interested in why because it hasn’t introduced any conflict.

Does it hint at genre? Possibly. Sounds like Women’s Fiction or Chick Lit to me. But honestly, it could be anything. If the next sentence reveals she’s a Cyborg with an identity crisis, then I’d be pretty sure it’s Science Fiction. But why should I wait until the second line?

Is it too long? Nope. At least it’s got that going for it.

Is it heavily related to the plot? I wouldn’t know. All I know is that the narrator’s name is Janet and she is complaining. Not a very compelling character trait to start off with, in my opinion.

Now that we’ve got the weak example out of the way, let’s move on to the strong example.

The deathcare therapists say, “Die happy, live happier.”

Does this pose a question? Yes! Why do people need “deathcare therapy?” It’s obviously not about offering support for the terminally ill, because why would it reference the afterlife? And it’s obviously not something only one therapist said, because it’s written in present tense to express a general truth. So it must be some sort of slogan. Perhaps it’s something that is preached through the media? Is it spiritual in nature? Or do people really get a second chance at life after they die? So many questions. I’m intrigued!

Does it hint at genre? I’d say so. I get a sense of Speculative Fiction or Psychological Thriller. Big change from my previous genre assumption.

Is it too long? No. I think this is a great length. It’s punchy, to the point, and full of intrigue.

Is it heavily related to the plot? I’d assume so. Why offer something so rich with implication if it has nothing to do with the story? From this first line, I’m assuming that this story is about life, death, and finding happiness. And perhaps within a moderately dystopian world.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your first line? Can you make it better?

1. Does your first line pose a question?
2. Does it hint at genre?
3. Is it short and punchy?
4. Is it related to the plot of your story?

Want more advice on how to self-edit your manuscript? Then you might be interested in Jessica’s new release, Polish Your Fiction: A Quick & Easy Self-Editing Guide.

Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Connect with Jessica online:

Writers, share your FIRST LINE 
in the comments section 
and Jessica will give you FEEDBACK
Leave a comment by Friday at midnight, June 6th EST.