Friday, February 2, 2007

On your marks...

The first line is the one that grabs you by the neck and holds on tight, according to The Rules of Writing. The flash of thigh that grabs someone's attention. That one line might be enough to hook or lose your reader, so better make it a damn good one.

Here’s the scene. Writer sits. Thinks. Writer wants a line that will introduce the character, set the scene, be both warmly familiar and interestingly fresh, while hinting at the pleasures yet to come. It’s a lot to ask of a line.

Writer sits.

Waits for genius to strike her on the head and scorch words on the page.

Writes ‘Once upon a time…’

In reality, the first line often is often just the place where the story starts. I could spend a day carefully crafting an opening line so that it throws a startling and tantalising image into the reader’s lap, or I could write three thousand words, scan to see where the action starts, and chop off the dross preceding it.

Still, there are occasions when a first line does drop from the sky, and somehow, miraculously, there’s enough in that one line to carry you for a whole story. There’s something hidden that needs to be explored. When I wrote ‘Housebound’, that’s exactly what happened.

Black Lace had put out a call for a Wicked Words anthology called ‘Sex in Public’. I thought – Public? I spend all my time indoors. So I started with that.

I wrote: ‘It’s been five months since I was last outside’, and a girl, her house, and her lover appeared in my head. The story unravelled in front of me.

‘Sex in Public’ is all about exhibitionism, so to celebrate the launch next week, we’re dropping our towels and giving you a sneak preview of the stories that were written by Lustbiters (and some of our lovely guests).

Throw the words ‘Sex in Public’ at a bunch of smutters, and this is what they came up with:

‘Marianna was a showgirl, a stripper, an artiste of bejewelled burlesque’
Kristina Lloyd – Marianna Multiple
An outrageous performance from Marianna and Mental Micky. You have to read this wild, fantastical story to believe it. Bring on the dancing girls!

‘Throughout her life she’d collected labels: visionary, romantic, rebel, slut.’
ADR Forte - Striptease

‘I was somewhat overdressed for a major-league ball game.’
Sophie Mouette – Make me come at the Ball Game
Playful, delicious and cheeky, a couple act decadent in their private box. Not exactly A Question of Sport…

‘Fee, fi, fo, fum, I’m going to bite your sexy bum.’
Madelynne Ellis – Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum
Lucy comes up with a very creative public fantasy for her ‘beautiful, blushing, double-scoop-chocolate-and-rum-truffle-ice-cream delicious boy.’

‘Mina climbed the steps of the temple with slow grace, a slight smudge of white against the steep staircase, flanked by her two dull-robed escorts.’
Olivia Knight – Innana’s Temple

‘Breathing deeply, I pause before the door to the Entertainment Chamber.’
Portia Da Costa – Public Domain
Mistress Cerise and her body servant Cicero dare to rebel in this wickedly playful fantasy from Portia da Costa. Lush.

‘Annabel and Mick are in the kitchen.’
Maya Hess – Day Fifty-one
Big Brother as it really should be.

‘For the twentieth time, Cauy Warner looked at his watch and back at the gate.’
Kate Pearce – Cowboy Up
Playboy rodeo champion Cauy comes back to his hometown to find his childhood sweetheart after ten years. Bucking broncos, red cowboy boots, break-ups and make-ups!

‘Miles knows that Laura likes rope.’
Mathilde Madden – Public Relations
A wonderful, submissive and twisty story ‘designed by the god(dess) of kink.’. Find out if Miles can control Miss Uncontrollable.

You know mine already. There’s a twist I don’t want to give away, so I can’t tell you much, other than what Kristina said (when I pinched her very hard):

‘Intriguing, dreamy, beautifully written, a little bit sleazy (car parks – yum) and ve-ery sexy’.

Want more? Sex in Public is out on February the 8th in the UK, and April 3rd in the US. We've also got a few copies to give away in our huge, throbbing Valentine's competition, which we'll be announcing soon.

Did we hook you?


Alison Tyler said...

Sounds lovely! I'm excited to read all of your stories!
As to first lines—my personal favorite (from a novel I never sold) was: "Zachary's bed is in the middle of his room, and I am in the middle of his bed."
Don't know why. I just liked the cadence of it.
Congrats to all of you having Sex in Public! (I mean, having your stories in Sex in Public, of course.)
P.S. As an editor, first lines really are dangerously important. If a story doesn't grab me at the beginning, it's doubtful I'll want to use the piece.

Anonymous said...

I've just finished a book where the first chapter nearly had me throwing it across the room. I'm left a little ambivalent still, but it was far better than I thought it would be after the violently homophobic and ultra-fundamentalist Christian start.

So, you can sometimes get away with a bad first line, even a bad first chapter, but it's not a good start.

Of this lot... I'd have to say "Miles knows that Laura likes rope" just does it for me somehow. All those bondage and public display buttons being pushed at once I guess.

kristina lloyd said...

This is the kind of topic I could get really nerdy and analytical about so lucky for everyone I’m going out soon and must be brief.

It’s so hard to define what works. Nikki, your 1st line wouldn’t have worked half as well if you’d said, ‘I haven’t been outside for 5 months’. But the passive voice you use fits perfectly with the character and story. If Tilly had written ‘David knows that Margaret likes rope’ it wouldn’t seduce in the same way because you lose those cool, internal rhymes and the flow. I suspect most of us don’t think along theses lines when we write; it’s largely instinct. And it is amazing the number of 1st lines that fall from the sky, begging for another few thousand words to follow.

Ok, must dash. I feel I’ll have to come back to this one.

It was a dark and stormy night …

Kate Pearce said...

Mine is kind of lame-but really-the story is hot-honest!
I loved the others!

Karl Friedrich Gauss said...

“On your marks... you mean to tell me he whipped you on your marks?” I had given Helen a thorough thrashing with a riding crop just this morning, leaving her sobbing and unable to sit down at lunch. She ate standing. I won't bore you with the reasons. But in spite of it all, Helen had insisted on going to the equestrian club social this afternoon.

“It's not like he knew what he was doing,” she protested. “I didn't exactly take down my pants for him”.

“Well I should hope not... but I take it, you were being your usual bratty self? Let me guess, you made some snide remark and then turned away as if you were leaving.”

“How did you know? Were you there? That's almost exactly what happened. And the next moment I felt his riding crop thwack across my ass. And did I ever yelp... and jump and turn around and scream at him how dare he do such a thing to a poor innocent such as myself and that I was sure my husband would have something to say about this. I think he went into total shock. He started to mumble and apologize and then he sort of slunk off. Later when the pain wore off, I realized that I had made a total scene about nothing and I looked for him to apologize. But his friends told me he had left early. They all looked at me funny, as if asking themselves if I was the girl who screamed – as if they were thinking I looked more scared than scary.”

I picked up the phone.

“What are you doing,” she demanded.

I'm calling him. I don't want to make you a liar. Your husband is going to have something to say to him. I'm going to invite him over for dinner. And you're going to explain everything.”

Nikki Magennis said...

I like the sound of Zachary's bed, Alison.

Anonymous - 'violently homophobic and ultra fundamentalist Christian start'? Is that someone's autobiography, or what?! And really, you need to read the rest of Mathilde's story. It's fantastic.

Kristina - yes, definitely instinct. I wouldn't know passive voice if it lay down and looked meek in front of me...

Kate - that's not lame at all! That's what I mean about first lines being tricky - I scanned a huge pile of books to find a good first line for this piece, classics even, and half of them don't sound great taken out of context. I think when I read it takes me a few lines to get into something. Unless, of course, it's violently homophobic and ultra fundamentalist. Then I might not bother!

And Karl - wow. This is great. I love it when people respond with a little story.

I wonder what happens next?

kristina lloyd said...

Just in case there are any grammarians watching (go away, will you? leave us alone!) I feel I ought to say that, Nikki, your opener is technically the present perfect simple tense (I think) rather than the passive voice. But it is defo passive in sense. Sorry if I have led anyone astray by my slapdash and sluttish use of grammatical terms.

I think I just lost a load of readers there, didn't I? Good job everyone's busy thinking about cowboys and no one will actually notice this.

Nikki Magennis said...

Present, perfect and simple. Just how I like it. Now, back to the cowboys..