Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Happy Monday, Dear Readers!

I certainly hope this week is better than the last.

As I begin another rewrite of Dragonfly Summer (hopefully today), it seems an appropriate time to enter a little writing contest.

Fellow author Brenda Drake is hosting a Dark and Stormy Blogfest Contest. The rules are simple. I have to post the first line of my novel on my blog today. Here it is:

I never believed in ghosts.
I’m supposed to invite all of you to critique it, and then post the final, polished line on Brenda’s blog on Wednesday. Easy enough, yes? The prize is a partial manuscript and query critique from new agent Weronika Janczuk, and God knows I can always use another opinion. I want this book to be as strong as possible by the time it goes out on submission this spring.

So, what do you think of my first line? I realize it’s short and sweet, so I haven’t given you much to work with. But does it grab you? Would it make you read on? Is it too much like something else you’ve read? Let me know.

I’ll take your feedback into account when I enter the polished first line in the contest. Thanks to everyone who participates.

Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. christicorbett

    Hello fellow blogfest participant!

    Your first line is direct and to the point. It sets the tone and makes me think the next line is going to be something about what happened to make the character believe in ghosts. (Am I right?)

    Christi Corbett

  2. Elaine AM Smith

    Hi Holli
    You haven’t given us much to work with 😉

    I’d never believed in ghosts.

    Do you need a “smoke and mirrors” Fakes and glimmers of sunlight: I’d never…
    kind of statement?
    Good luck with the revisions.

  3. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I wonder if it would be better to somehow include the next line or give the reader a sense of why “I” believe in ghosts now – “I’d never believed in ghosts [until one tried to smother me in my sleep]” – kind of thing. Maybe give the reader a little more of a sense of what kind of novel this is going to be – humorous, horror, women’s fiction with a literary bent, etc.

    Just my two cents. Or maybe that was three. 🙂

  4. Kate Haggard

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with Madeline. You give us a little morsel but not a heck of a lot to bite into. The first line should hook and promise something for the novel to come. Another clause, another little clue and you’d have us.

  5. Story Teller

    Thanks, everyone. Here is the rest of the opening paragraph. I’m not sure I want to mush it into one sentence. Thoughts?

    I’d seen enough horror among the living to bother with the dead. Closets inspired no fear in me. I could walk by a bed without thinking about something seizing my ankles. Darkness was a place of dreams—not nightmares—and the only eerie whispers I’d heard were the wind.

    If you’d asked me about it a few months ago, I would have told you I was the type of person who had to experience something in order to believe it.

    I know better now.

    Please keep in mind this is a first draft! 🙂

  6. Jocé

    Hi Holli,
    Well, you got my attention with your one line FB post. Ha! I’m here now, so… to consider

    I never believed in ghosts

    Short is good. However, I partly agree with some of the other comments, would like a little more of a hook, although I too felt the implied “until”.

    However, now you’ve given the whole first paragraph and WHAM. That second line has such a punch.

    I’d seen enough horror among the living to bother with the dead.

    Could perhaps this be your first line? maybe extended to include the disclaimer “I never believed in ghosts? Just a thought 🙂

    Good luck in the contest.

  7. Story Teller

    Hmm–great suggestion, Jocelyn.

    What about

    “I never believed in ghosts–I’d seen enough horror among the living to bother with the dead.”

  8. christicorbett

    Yes yes yes to your latest revision question about smooshing (is that even a word?!) your first and second sentences together.

    Then again, you saw how my first line goes for miles and then some so I’m biased toward longer 🙂

    Christi Corbett

  9. Lisa

    I concur with:
    “I never believed in ghosts–I’d seen enough horror among the living to bother with the dead.”

    Packs more of a punch and definitely makes you want to read on…

  10. Story Teller

    Thanks, Lisa & Christi! You rock!

  11. kathrynjankowski

    I like it. Short, yet it makes us want to keep reading to find out why.

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Cheree

    Short and sweet. It doesn’t give much, but it does make me want to read on to find out what’s going to happen.

  13. Chris

    I love that opening! If you’re going to combine the first two sentences, separate them with a colon:

    “I never believed in ghosts: I’d seen enough horror among the living to bother with the dead.”

    It’s grammatically correct and looks more badass, IMO. 🙂

    The only other suggestion I have is to replace the word “bother,” which is a bit weak. It’s the kind of word that would get your sentence stripped of its lunch money and adjectives by the school bully at recess.

  14. Nicole

    I like the brevity of the first line — it comes right to the point, and it fits nicely into your first paragraph.

  15. C Scott Morris

    Nice and to the point, intriguing without being clunky.
    I like it.

  16. ceebee

    I think the original short, separate sentences sound much more powerful than the combined version.

  17. Fat Arse

    My manuscript begins:

    “His balls were hairy, but the hair not yet gray.”

    It ends:

    “His hair, now gray, he watched as his balls bounced away.”

  18. Margo Kelly

    While I like it, I totally agree with Madeline. Give us just a little bit more.

  19. Loralie Hall

    I think you’ve got a great hook here, but for something so personal, it feels like it lacks voice. It’s a statement anyone could make. I’d continue reading, though.

  20. Story Teller

    Wow, thanks for your comments. I’m pretty torn, as they seem fairly split down the middle.

    @ Loralie – you do get a sense of her voice very quickly, I promise. That opening line is just a tease to suck the reader into the story.

    @ Fat Arse – brilliant, simply brilliant! Who could improve upon that? Obviously, your novel comes full circle.

  21. Story Teller

    I just wanted to thank everyone again for their help. I was really torn about what to enter in the contest. I was almost swayed to combine the first and second lines, but a lot of you–including people whose opinions I highly respect–liked it just the way it was, so in the end I had to go with my gut.

    I most likely won’t win, since my first line is so short, but I noticed there’s quite a few other shorties out there, too. Thanks again for commenting!


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