‘Bone Deep’ by Scarlett R. Algee
When I say ‘writing an outstanding first line’, I don’t necessarily mean it needs to be some magical combination of words that hypnotizes anyone who sees it to keep reading. (If you figure out how to do that please let me know!). All it really needs to do is stand out. Make it interesting, exciting, terrifying, or even humorous. It could be something as simple as ‘My uncle’s head fell off last night’. As long as it makes the reader want to know more, they’ll probably keep reading.
The first line of your story, whether it be short fiction or a novel, can decide its fate, no matter how good the rest of it may be.
Most publications receive so many submissions that the process of elimination can be rather cutthroat. It’s the only way some publishers can keep up with the flood of emails they receive. Some don’t offer rejections at all. They state in their submission guidelines that if you don’t hear back within a specified amount of time, your story has been rejected. It’s disappointing to receive a rejection letter (or email to be specific; I still like to refer to them as ‘letters’) but even more disappointing to get nothing at all.
If your first line doesn’t make them want to read more, there’s a good chance it could end up in the rejection pile without ever being read.
If your first line grabs them, they’ll likely read the first few paragraphs. So those should entice the reader further, just as the first line did.
Let it reflect what emotion or theme your story intends to instill, so the reader is set to the right frame of mind to see the story as closely as you intend it to be seen. Allow it say something to the reader, imprint something that matters. Make them wonder, ask themselves a question; make them curious, afraid, or delighted. Illicit an emotion or a thought, an idea or eye-opening realization.
Here is a very basic example of how to turn an average first line into a good one:
Original: The night was still, as if being intently watched by the moon.
Better: Stillness blanketed the night, watched over by an intent moon.
Even better: Something permeated the night, forced it into stillness as the moon watched with uncertain intent.
The original isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t say anything to the reader about the story. It merely describes the setting. It doesn’t illicit feeling.
The better version adds some style to the wording, but still states the same thing.
The even better version adds words like: something, forced, and uncertain. These words make the reader wonder what that ‘something’ might be. It adds a touch of apprehension by including ‘forced’, and it adds curiosity by adding ‘uncertain’.
But this isn’t the only way to nail a great first line.
Another option is to begin your story with action. Something happening. It doesn’t have to be exciting or full of explosions (although, explosions are fun). The idea is to begin the story with action rather than description. The example I used above is more descriptive than action-based, but still includes action words: permeated, forced, watched.
If your character is in a situation early in your story, but you’ve started describing the situation rather than playing it out, just begin your story with the situation playing out. You can worry about informing the reader afterward. The curiosity of wanting to find out what’s happening is what will keep them reading. If your characters have something important to say, you could start with a conversation, just make that first line of dialogue intriguing.
This of course doesn’t work for everything. Sometimes starting a piece with description can work, if it works for the story. But any way you put it, the beginning of your story should grab the reader and draw them in.
Thanks for reading!
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If you have a chance, check out my debut novella, Zero Perspective.
My debut novella, Zero Perspective is now available!
Lost in the depths of space and time, swallowed by something unknown to humanity, a derelict ship is adrift in an alternate reality.
John and his crew board the vessel, the Esometa, on a rescue mission. The ship’s been lost for two weeks with no explanation. When they discover its occupants dead and decaying, a mind-bending journey begins.
The Esometa takes them down a path filled with horrid creatures and bizarre events from which there may be no return…
Lee Forman is a writer and editor from the Hudson Valley, NY. His fascination with the macabre began in childhood, watching old movies and reading everything he could get his hands on. He’s a third-generation horror fanatic, starting with his grandfather who was a fan of the classic Hollywood Monsters. His work has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, websites, and podcasts. He’s an editor for Sirens Call Publications and writes, edits, and is an administrator for the horror fiction website PenoftheDamned.com. He’s also a regular contributor of non-fiction articles for Living Paranormal Magazine. Check out his debut novella, Zero Perspective on Amazon! When he’s not crafting horrifying creatures and tales of terror, he spends his time playing guitar and writing music. For more information and a list of publications go to www.leeformanauthor.com
The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Dark dreams and sunlight orbs, buried deep within the Brackmore Woods.
Every child in the village knew those words, every bedtime story contained their echo. Don’t stray off the path, don’t wander too far into the forest. Something wicked lives deep within the woodland.
I learned that and I obeyed. Until today. After the rules changed. After… well, things got desperate. I went past the boundaries, past the whispers, into the shadowed forest. Where the only light came from the wicked. There, in the dirt, I sketched a rune and said a dark, sacred name.
For a moment, I waited. Afraid they wouldn’t come, and afraid they would. Then came a growl, then two, and three, then a thousand. And the eyes, so many pairs of yellow eyes. I trembled, but I found my voice and…
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My novella, Zero Perspective, is now available to purchase at Haven for Heroes in Port Jervis, NY. It’s a great comic shop with tons of games, movies, collectibles, and books! There’s lots of interesting stuff to browse through and look at. These stores are getting harder to find. Definitely a treasure trove of awesome!
If you’re in the tri-state area this place is worth the trip.
If you’re into tabletop games they have game nights too.
Follow their Facebook page for updates and other cool stuff.
In celebration of publishing my novella, Zero Perspective, I’d like to share an excerpt from the first chapter with you, the awesome person reading this post. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for reading, and an even bigger thank you if you decide to pick up a copy of Zero Perspective!
…After suiting up and meeting Grant and Miles at the airlock, John led the team into the Esometa.
“It’s a ghost ship,” Grant said, shining his helmet light down the dark, silent corridor.
“Have you ever heard a ship be this quiet?” Miles asked.
“It’s completely shut down,” John added. “Dead in the water, so to speak.”
“Why are the gravity systems still operational?” Miles noted.
Grant shook his head. “Strange. They shouldn’t be.”
They made their way down the hall. John tried to prepare himself for the sight of corpses, which he felt sure they’d find. His stomach cramped at the thought.
“Where’s the bridge?” Miles asked. “You know the designs on these ships, don’t you Grant?”
“I thought I did,” Grant answered. “This corridor should have ended ten meters back and I still can’t see the end of it. It doesn’t conform to the design specifications. I don’t understand.”
“You’ve got the right display, haven’t you?” Miles’ tone carried a wavering anticipation.
“Of course I have the right one.”
“Then where the hell are we?” Miles asked.
Grant studied the information on his arm display. He seemed transfixed, the soft glow of the screen casting pale light on his face. His eyes stared hard, jaw locked in concentration.
“Well?” Miles took a step closer to Grant.
“I don’t know,” Grant said. “Let’s turn around and go back. Maybe we just missed it in the dark.”
“Where does your computer say we are?” John asked.
“It’s not working,” Grant answered.
“But what does it say?”
“It says we’re not even on the ship. It says we’re out there,” he pointed a gloved finger at one of the port windows, “in space.”
“Then it’s obviously malfunctioning,” Miles said.
“No shit,” Grant replied. “I just said it wasn’t working.”
“We’ll turn around and make our way back,” John said. “We don’t want to get lost in here. We’ll go get a replacement so we know where we’re going.”
Grant looked hard at John. “Sure, we need a new computer. But something still isn’t right about this. I know these ships like the back of my hand. And I’m telling you, there’s no way this corridor is as long as it is. I don’t need the computer to tell me that.”
“Radio the captain,” John said. “Let him know our situation before we move on. Maybe he knows something about the ship we don’t.”
“This is Grant to Tyson. Come in, Tyson.”
They waited for an answer, but were met with silence. Not even static came through the speaker.
“Grant to Tyson. Can you read me?” He tapped his helmet. “Hello? Tyson, are you there? This is Grant. We have a situation.”
Sweat beaded on John’s brow. A drop ran down the bridge of his nose and rested at the tip. He focused on it, blurring all else in his vision. It shook slightly, as though seismic activity rumbled beneath the surface of his skin.
“I’m not getting anything,” Grant said. “Nothing at all.”
“This is John. Can anyone hear me?” He tried to keep his voice calm, despite the simmered blood rushing through his heart. He didn’t want anyone to panic. That would make a bad situation worse. And things were already off to a less than perfect start…
Zero Perspective is available from these retailers:
Signed copies are also available! Contact me by email at LeeFormanAuthor@gmail.com
Hey everyone! NEW CALL for our upcoming eZine – Issue #40 – ‘As Summer Leaves and Autumn Falls’ – Stories of disaster influenced by horrific intent.
Whether it be Mother Nature’s wrath or a devilish ghoul, a sprite most wicked or a stumbling fool, tell us a tale of disaster that happens as summer ends and autumn begins.
We are looking for stories, flash fiction and poetry of horrific happenings that take place in the summer months that lead into fall. As long as the piece is primarily horror/dark fiction, we’d love to see it!
Deadline: Aug 10, 2018; readership approx: 35,000
Reprints welcome! See the blog or web site for further details!
Check out the latest collection of dark flash fiction by the authors over at Pen of the Damned! Some delightfully morbid words, all inspired by the same photo!
Includes pieces written by Mercedes M. Yardley, Lydia Prime, Jon Olson, Mark Steinwachs, A.F. Stewart, Scarlett R. Algee, and Nina D’Arcangela, and my own story, Hope for the Chosen.