If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

May Interviews

5/5 Lynn Calhoon, Murder 101
5/12 Annette Dashofy, Death By Equine
5/19 Krista Davis, The Diva Serves Forbidden Fruit
5/25 Debra Goldstein, Four Cuts Too Many

Saturday WWK Bloggers

5/1 V. M. Burns
5/8 Jennifer Chow
5/22 Kait Carson

Guest Blogs

5/15 M. K. Scott


E. B. Davis's "The Pearl Necklace" will appear in the new SinC Guppy anthology The Fish That Got Away to be released in July by Wildside Press. The anthology was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Paula Gail Benson's monologue "Beloved Husband," from the perspective of Norton Baskin the second husband of Marjorie Kinan Rawlings (who wrote The Yearling and Cross Creek), appears in the Red Penguin Collection's An Empty Stage (released March 28, 2021).

Martha Reed's "Death by GPS" will appear in the Spring 2021 issue of Suspense Magazine, which will be released in the second week of April. Congratulations, Martha!

Susan Van Kirk has a new audiobook, A Death at Tippitt Pond, that will be released this month. Marry in Haste will be released in May by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery, as will Death Takes No Bribes in September. Congratulations, Susan.

Congratulations to Martha Reed. Her short story, "The Honor Thief" was chosen for the 2021 Bouchercon Anthology, This Time For Sure. Hank Phillippi Ryan will edit the volume, which will be released in August at the time of the convention.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Killer Weeds," appears in the January 20 edition of Texas Gardener's Seeds: From Our Garden to Yours. Congratulations, Margaret, who, if you follow Facebook know, is a superb gardener herself!

Congratulations to Jennifer J. Chow for garnering a 2021 Lefty Nomination for Best Humorous Mystery Novel. We're crossing our fingers for Jennifer!

Congratulations to Paula Gail Benson whose "Reputation or Soul" has been chosen for Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical anthology to be released this spring.

KM Rockwood's "Stay Safe--Very Safe" appears in this year's 2020 BOULD anthology. Congratulations, KM!

Annette Dashofy signed with agent Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Congratulations, Annette!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Pick up Lines or Don't Put me Down Lines

How do you pull readers into your work?

When I used to supervise psychiatric residents I would ask them to describe the single thing that defines a successful initial interview with a client in therapy. Typically, they would answer something about making a tentative diagnosis, or considering the need for medication. Occasionally, a resident would mention starting a therapeutic relationship. I would agree that all those are important considerations but not the most important goal of the first contact. The single event that defines a successful initial interview is that the client shows up for a second interview.

I believe the successful opening sentence or paragraph is the one that persuades the reader to continue reading the story.

In my checkered past as an e-zine co-editor and a co-judge of writing contests, no story that failed to engage me by the end of the first paragraph, enticed the other editors/judges sufficiently to get published or win an award.

Here are three examples that worked for me:

From Beecher’s Bibles, “When the riders appeared out of nowhere, I knew they came to kill my pa.” I think that sentence sets up expectations and lets the reader know the stories takes place in the past. It took about the same length of time to write that one sentence as it took to write the rest of the story.

From The Turkey Hill Affair, “Turkey Hill, Iowa was a big disappointment until I bumped into Bennie as he was robbing the Farm and Business Bank.” I think this introduces the narrator as a person with an unusual background and suggests the humorous tone of the story to come. This was as easy to write as the sentence above was difficult.

From Riding Shotgun, “I was in disguise when it started — designer sunglasses, boat shoes without socks and a tailored Italian suit.” I think this arouses curiosity and foreshadows that in this story appearances can be deceiving.

I invite you to share what openings have worked for you.

I also invite those of you in the Kansas City area to attend my signing of Murder Manhattan Style at noon on 2/4/11 at I Love a Mystery Bookstore 6114 Johnson Drive Mission, KS 66202 or you can order it at http://www.ninthmonthpublishing.com/books.html


Unknown said...

I'd say the first sentence changes more often than anything else. And yes, sometimes it can be really hard, other times it comes like a burst and you just know it's perfect.

From my first historical story, Placing Out, a novella to be published in April:

I always remember the train.

From L.A. Mischief:

The woman was dead.

(A lot of my police procedurals start with dead bodies LOL)

Warren Bull said...

Both are good examples. I definitely want to keep reading.

Polly Iyer said...

I've had a great first line for years. Problem is, I don't have the story to go with it. Now there's a switch.

Warren Bull said...

Please check out facebook for discussion of this blog.
Thanks, Ramona

E. B. Davis said...

I won't judge a book from just the first line. The first chapter maybe, but not just one line. I doubt if I did before I started write, but now I especially won't. First sentences get me so paranoid I now have sympathy with the writer. That paranoia has also led me to write the ending first.

Sue said...

The first line of my new short story is "They found me in a cardboard box in the median of the interstate."

Jenny Milchman said...

Have a great time at the signing, Warren--wish I could be there! Getting to meet Nancy Pickard must've been a treat--I simply love her work, each novel better than the last.

Great openings? Let's see. I don't think you can beat Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" for the sheer disconnect between it and what follows:

"The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green."

Warren Bull said...

EB, You are talking like a writer, which of course you are, Ramona DeFelice Long conducted an informal survey and found that most readers decide to continue or not by the end of the first paragraph. I'd but it's the same for agents and editors

E. B. Davis said...

"The Lottery" was vivid in my memory, the ending horrid. Her opening line provided a contrast to the ending. But if you judged the story on just that line--you wouldn't have a clue. The reason why I won't judge opening lines.

Warren Bull said...

Sue, I love it. You generate so many questions that I am intrigued.

E. B. Davis said...

Sue-I hope that you're a kitten or a puppy, not that I'd want that situation for them either.

Ramona said...

Warren, the best part of your post are the illustrative examples.

I'm conducting a series of free writes and need topics. I may print this post to use for the class--okay with you?

Warren Bull said...


Of course you can. I'm flattered that you asked. Next time you edit an anthology where I qualify as a possible author please let me know


Warren Bull said...

I haven't read the lottery in such a long time that don't recall the opening paragraph. I would read the paragraph. I think writing has changed somewhat. The Maltese Falcon starts with a description of Sam Spade that goes on longer than most modern mystery novels.

Pauline Alldred said...

I haven't read any great first lines in a while but the first paragraphs hooked me and that was enough. I'd definitely prefer the first line to introduce a character and not talk about the weather or the grass. I'd hate to have missed The Lottery because I wouldn't tolerate the first line.

Peg Nichols said...

I usually get past the first lines fairly quick -- if I go to the trouble to pick up a book, I'm going to read at least a few pages.

I hope, Warren, that you didn't show up for your book signing on today, the fourth, 'cuz it ain't until tomorrow, the fifth!

Earl Staggs said...

Warren, you have many great first lines in your book. I hope your signing is a huge success. Some of my favorite opening lines from other writers:

The first time I saw her, I figured her for the kind of girl who ironed her socks.

The woman standing over me with a gun shoved in my face had the hiccups.

Exhausted, she ran on, for reasons the Spartans would have understood. She'd die on her feet, not on her knees!

I found the dead guy in seat 42A.

My own novel opens with:

"Adam Kingston! Get your skinny butt out of that bed."

Best wishes.

Warren Bull said...


Thanks. Great examples.


You see why I need an editor. The signing is today.

Kate Thornton said...

Here's the first line of my WIP:

"It was a memorable vacation and even if I had not found that little girl locked in the closet of an old house, I would still remember it vividly."

I think first lines are important, even more so for short stories (what I usually write.) But this line set me on the path for a novel, 1/2 done, hope to complete this summer.

Nice post, WAreen - love reading you on the lists, too!

Kate Thornton said...

I meant "Warren", of course - my typing leaves a lot to be desired!

Warren Bull said...

Nice work Kate.

Anonymous said...

I invite you to share what openings have worked for you.

Well, I've published both Mystery and SF/Mystery stories. I think these two worked well at drawing the reader into the story~

A lot of things happen in New York City's Chinatown: things get stolen, people turn up dead, and -- apparently -- dead people get stolen.

--"Grave Consequences"

I knew it was going to be one of those mornings when I dilated my front door open and found Captain Han Cho of the Martian Police standing in the corridor.

--"An Arbitrary Deprivation of Life"

Joseph Benedetto, MWA

Warren Bull said...

Two excellent examples, Joseph.